HL Deb 25 July 1997 vol 581 cc1616-46

1.40 p.m.

Lord Kenilworth

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

First, I welcome all noble Lords who intend to speak in this debate and in particular the noble Lords, Lord Hoyle and Lord Newton, for whom the debate will mark their maiden speech in this House.

The purpose of the Bill is to relieve the Hailsham Cattle Market Company of any duty imposed by the Hailsham Cattle Market Act 1871 to continue and maintain a market. The Bill is also intended to provide the company with the power to sell or otherwise dispose of the market site in Hailsham, which is currently in its ownership. The Bill is promoted jointly by the Hailsham Cattle Market Company and Carter Commercial Developments Limited, the latter being a company which hopes to play a part in the eventual redevelopment of the market site.

The Hailsham Cattle Market Act 1871, which this Bill seeks to amend, was part of a 19th century trend aimed at ending the widespread practice of trading livestock on the streets of market towns. That Act turned the Hailsham Cattle Market Company into a statutory company with powers to establish and maintain a market in the parish of Hailsham. The purpose of the 1871 Act was to bring to an end the practice of trading livestock in the streets. Needless to say, that was a 19th century problem and in that respect the 1871 Act is now redundant.

The present day position of the company is that 210 shares in the company are owned by members of two families and have been owned by members of the same families in the same proportion since 1946. The company has not in living memory run the market although various shareholders have been involved with the market in other capacities over the years. Rather, the company has leased the site to firms and individuals, always on the condition that they operate a cattle market on the site. Equally, the company does not carry on any activities other than those related to the market. The company's only asset is the market site and its only activity is the collection of rent from the site.

Therefore, the 1871 Act has created a situation in which private individuals are burdened with a statutory duty to provide a particular service in a particular location without being able to have regard to the changes in demand for that service or to their ability to provide the service. Changes in the UK livestock business in recent years mean that the operation of markets such as Hailsham is no longer a viable commercial proposition. For that reason the current tenant of Hailsham market, South East Marts Limited, intends to vacate the premises upon the expiry of its lease in the year 2001, if not before.

In recent years, there have been five major changes in the UK livestock business which have contributed to the decline of the traditional town centre cattle market. First, the Government's announcement on 20th March 1996 of a possible link between BSE in cattle and CJD in humans and the subsequent export ban imposed by the European Commission on 24th March 1996 have reduced the demand for British beef generally and thus the number of cattle required by abattoirs and supermarkets. In addition, 1.5 million animals have been removed permanently from the food chain by the cull ordered under the over-30 month scheme.

The second point is that, even before the BSE crisis, supermarkets were expressing a preference for stock sourced directly from the farm, thus eliminating livestock markets from the supply chain. With the onset of the BSE crisis, supermarkets began, and are continuing, to intervene in terms of inspection of the supply chain both on farms and at the abattoirs. Many large abattoirs have forced a stop-purchase for livestock markets altogether, thus reducing the volume of business for such markets nationwide.

Thirdly, new methods of marketing livestock have developed which do not include the traditional livestock market. For example, electronic livestock marketing, that is sales between farmers and abattoirs over a computer system and is preferred by many farmers as it involves animals being transported directly from the farm to the abattoir. In contrast, finished animals that are marketed through livestock markets have to be transported from the farm to the market and from the market to the abattoir. In some cases, stock is purchased by intermediary traders before eventually being purchased by the abattoir.

Fourthly, the abattoir industry in the UK is contracting. The Meat and Livestock Commission is currently working with the Government to devise a scheme to reduce the over-capacity in the abattoir industry (estimated at 40 per cent.) by mothballing many of the remaining non-viable plants. Such a move will have a major impact upon transport times to and from livestock markets (and therefore, upon transport costs), making markets with poor access to abattoirs, such as Hailsham, unviable. At present, most buyers in the south-east have to pass through Guildford or Ashford on their way to major abattoirs, giving those markets a significant location advantage over Hailsham.

The contraction in the abattoir industry cannot be ascribed to BSE alone. Sheep throughput is also in decline. Using Hailsham as an example, sheep throughput fell by over 6,000 in 1995, and by 6,500 in 1996. The decline in sheep sales figures over the period 1991 to 1996 has also been experienced by Ashford and Guildford markets.

Finally, increased regulation of the livestock industry, much of which emanates from the European Union, is placing increasingly heavy burdens upon livestock markets. A recent example is the Welfare of Animals (Transport) Order 1997, which came into force on 1st July 1997. The order imposes a basic eight-hour limit upon the time in which an animal may be in transit in one day. That means that many animals travelling from livestock markets to abattoirs will need to be kept at the market overnight, which is known as lairage. Suitable lairage facilities are found only at large livestock markets, such as Guildford and Ashford. Hailsham market immediately adjoins a residential area and simply does not have the space or facility to accommodate that.

In view of the shift of the UK livestock business away from the traditional livestock market, no livestock market can achieve an adequate return on capital on the basis of the livestock sales alone. In order to survive, cattle markets must diversify. The successful cattle market of the future will have to operate as a property company with many different activities apart from the sale of cattle. The successful markets of Guildford and Ashford supplement livestock activities by renting space to retail outlets, running non-livestock auctions, providing farm services and running stall markets—car sales and so forth.

South East Marts has attempted such diversification at Hailsham market by introducing a Friday stalls market. That is profitable on a very small scale but it or activities like it would need to take place at the present level on at least five days a week in order to bring the market as a whole into substantial profit.

The limitations of the site itself restrict the scope of management initiatives aimed at expanding operations. There is no space available for physical expansion to provide, for example, better vehicle access, overnight lairage and ancillary services. Furthermore, intensification of activities would lead to an environmental health problem in view of the market's location—adjacent to a residential area—and planning restrictions upon intensification of commercial use in the Hailsham town centre contained in the local plan.

Hailsham market is not of a size or location that satisfies the needs of large livestock farmers and buyers. Even if the market could be made profitable in the short term as a result of initiatives such as the establishment of stalls markets, once major capital investment is required either by a failure of the present infrastructure or through statutory requirements, the market would cease to be viable and would not be able to generate enough income to justify major capital injection. That point is almost certain to be reached at some time in the next five years. In the present market conditions Hailsham market, at three acres, is thought to be too small to be profitable and environmentally sound.

The market has not yielded a return on the company's 1990 capital investment of £350,000. Furthermore, capital investment in site is out of the question as the market cannot generate the level of profit necessary to justify such outlay. That is why there have been no major improvements in the market facilities since 1990.

Having examined the markets throughput figures in the years 1992 through 1996, it is clear to the accountants—Deloitte & Touche—that the volume of fat cattle passing through the market has fallen in each of those years. That drop is typical of markets in the south-east. According to the Meat and Livestock Commission figures published in Farmers' Weekly, Hailsham, Guildford and Ashford markets have all seen significant reductions in fat cattle throughput during 1996, ranging from a 30 per cent. fall for Ashford to a 45 per cent. fall at Guildford. Hailsham is in between, reducing by 38 per cent. over the same period. Even the volume of store cattle—cattle sold from one farm to another and not intended for immediate slaughter—dropped over the past three years.

As many noble Lords will know, there are various objectors in principle to this Bill, including the National Farmers Union, Somerfield Stores and Wealden District Council. Somerfield's objection that development as a supermarket is planned for the site and that Hailsham does not need another supermarket in view of there being a Somerfield outlet in the town centre, is clearly an anti-competitive one. However, the promoters of the Bill acknowledge that the objection from the local farming community merits serious consideration. I know that many of your Lordships agree with that.

The farming objection is based on the fact that the seasonal store market at Hailsham market is used by many local farmers. Indeed, those uses make up the vast majority of petitioners against the Bill. The promoters have, in recent months, been working towards a compromise proposal which will go a long way towards addressing those concerns. The Hailsham Cattle Market Company is willing to continue to provide a store cattle market in the Hailsham vicinity; indeed, a site has already been found at a distance of approximately two miles from the town and the proposal has been put to the petitioners.

One of the petitioners—the National Farmers Union—is currently putting that proposal to interested members. Another petitioner—the Hailsham Market Action Group—has responded through its solicitors setting out a number of anxieties which I should like briefly to address. First, the action group points out that 59 per cent. of the Hailsham market's 1996 turnover was accounted for by trade in store cattle. The action group clearly wishes to underline the importance and volume of that aspect of the market's activities. The promoters are well aware that the store market is the best used of its services at Hailsham. It is for precisely those reasons that the alternative store market is proposed. The alternative market would provide capacity for at least the equivalent of Hailsham's current store cattle throughput.

Secondly, the action group points out that the store cattle market is presently held fortnightly all year round. The promoters' proposal, on the other hand, is that the market should be held only during the store seasons—that is, March through June and October and November. The sales in other months are minimal.

Thirdly, comment is made as to the inadequacy of Blackbarn Farm in its present condition in terms of facilities for office accommodation, parking and access. In response to that, I am informed that it is not the promoters' intention to carry on a market on that site in its present state. It is prepared to sign an undertaking to the effect that, in the event of the Bill being enacted, adequate facilities in terms of parking, access, staff and buildings will be provided. I understand that that can be done within the existing planning constraints.

The action group is concerned that assurances from the promoters might not be honoured or that the existing store market might close before the new market opens. Those concerns can be dealt with in the promoters' undertaking which could be made either to this House or to the local authority. The details of the arrangement would of course be for a committee to decide.

The petitioners' concerns are very much reflected in the Instructions to be moved by my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton and Lord Wrenbury. I should like to speak on those Instructions. Beginning with the Instruction to be moved by my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton that the committee should consider the relationship between the joint promoters, the market tenant and third parties, the promoters inform me that they have no objection whatever to disclosing those relationships to the committee.

The second Instruction is also entirely acceptable to the promoters. Some dialogue has already taken place in that regard and no doubt the committee will wish to inform itself on the subject. In respect of the third Instruction that the committee should consider alternative arrangements sufficient for the needs of other market users as well as local farmers, I confirm that the reference to "other market users" is meant to indicate other livestock users such as butchers and not non-livestock users—notably, stall holders at the weekly "tat" sales. While consideration should certainly be given to non-livestock uses, possibly for their relocation, it should be borne in mind that the promoters' statutory responsibilities under the 1871 Act do not extend to the provision of those non-livestock activities.

As regards the Instruction to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, the promoters assure me that a representative of South East Marts Limited will be available for questioning by the committee on the subjects mentioned. It appears to me that all of the petitioners' concerns are matters on which some agreement could be reached. I am further encouraged by the fact that a dialogue between the parties is already established.

In summary, the duty imposed on the Hailsham Cattle Market Company by the Hailsham Cattle Market Act 1871 is incompatible with the market economy and principles of supply and demand. It is unjust that the shareholders of the statutory company, who for the most part have inherited their shares, should be burdened with the responsibility to carry on a commercial enterprise which is demonstrably doomed to failure. The Bill will also enable a more appropriate use to be made of a prime town site in Hailsham.

Some of your Lordships have expressed reservations about this Bill on the grounds that the promoters should not be permitted to free themselves of a statutory obligation, albeit one that is 126 years old, without making some form of return to the community in exchange. The point that I should like to make to those noble Lords preparing to object to the Bill is that the promoters are demonstrating a flexibility of approach which should enable a solution acceptable both to the promoters and to the majority of petitioners to be reached in Committee. I think that the good faith of all parties concerned in their genuine desire to come to an agreement can be relied upon in this case for the simple reason that if the Bill does not become law the promoters will be unable to provide a cattle market on this site due to the financial impracticabilities of doing so but will, equally, be unable to sell the site. I fear that the result may well be a derelict site in Hailsham town centre and a complete loss of market facilities in the vicinity. That is of course an unattractive prospect to all concerned.

There is enough common ground between the promoters and petitioners so that your Lordships need not fear a situation in which the House's time is wasted by the ultimate failure of the promoters to accept the results of your Lordships' deliberations in Committee. I would urge then that the House should follow its usual practice and allow the Bill to proceed to a Committee where a detailed debate can take place. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Kenilworth.)

2.2 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a second time, to leave out ("now") and at end to insert ("this day six months").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I may start by saying that, since the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, has told us that he is prepared to accept the Instructions being given and that therefore when they are moved in their turn they will not be opposed in your Lordships' House and will come into force, I do not propose to take the amendment standing in my name to a Division but will seek your Lordships' permission to withdraw it accordingly.

The Instructions which have been tabled in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, and of the noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, who is not quite my noble kinsman but my noble relation by marriage and my noble fellow cleric, are extremely good. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, on accepting them.

Although I am totally opposed to the Bill, I understand that the proposers have a case in wishing the arguments about it to be considered in rather more detail than is possible in a Second Reading debate. I would not want them to be able to come back to your Lordships' House at a later stage and say that they were muzzled the first time round. One must weigh that against the fact that the proposers for the most part must be considered to be rich and that some of the most important, in my eyes, of the petitioners are extremely poor and it will be a strain on their resources to maintain their petitions. Nevertheless, I am persuaded that enough of the petitioners have resources that it would probably be of benefit to everyone to have all the arguments out into the open at a Committee stage.

I was first alerted to the Bill by an admirable article in the Sunday Telegraph by Adam Nicolson. That prompted me, as spokesman for conservation of the countryside for the party on whose Benches I sit, to contact the local Liberal Democrat councillors. I was considerably helped by Councillor Michael Skinner, who was at that time the prospective parliamentary candidate for Wealden and is still a local councillor.

There are a number of marginal arguments for and against the Bill and, doubtless, as a result of the Instructions which the House is going to give, they will be fully argued out. But I shall devote my short speech, in the spirit of the swingeing Motion I have put down, to a fairly swingeing attack on the principle involved. I start from the principle that the burden of proof is clearly on any party trying to set aside an Act of Parliament to prove why, considering all things, this should be done, and that burden is not discharged by merely saying or even proving that it makes economic sense to do so. It must make social sense as well and it is indeed all things which must be considered and not just economic things.

Markets are, or certainly were, part of the countryside. They are an important part of the countryside. Just recently we have seen a great rally in Hyde Park on behalf of the countryside. It was very impressive. One did not have to be a defender of hunting, which I am not, to know that there is a very real sense in which the countryside in the sense in which many of us knew it 50 years ago has been sidelined by modern life.

The local cattle market is part of that countryside. Many of us know it from personal experience as well as from the writings of such splendid chroniclers of the rural scene as Adrian Bell, whose distinguished son won such a resounding victory to become a Member of another place at the last election. They are important places for members of the farming community to meet regularly. They are of more than passing importance at a time when the rate of suicide among farmers is extremely high. They minimise the distance that animals have to travel, a point which has just been brought up. They are an important factor in trying to limit the distress which animals destined for our table have to endure. They are an irreplaceable source of fresh, locally produced meat for local butchers. In this case we are fortunate that there is located very near to the market an abattoir, so one of the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, is negated by the fact that the farmers can take their beasts to the market and they can go straight to the abattoir without further trouble.

Markets are especially needed in districts such as those around Hailsham where the nature of the soil and of the farming is such that in any system of sane, extensive farming, grazing is the main form of agriculture. A lot of the farms are small, mixed farms of exactly the kind that I believe we should go out of our way to encourage to survive.

Also to be considered in the present debate is preserving a healthy diversity in the centres of market towns. Hailsham is almost a textbook case and is the better for having at its centre both a cattle market and a supermarket. It would not contribute to that diversity to do away with that market and to have another supermarket. There is no presumption that just because the previous Secretary of State for the Environment took an overdue and admirable stand against out-of-town supermarkets—a stand which the present Government continue and my party supports—any supermarket that wishes has a pre-emptive right to find a site in the middle of a town. Supermarkets are all very well in their way—I use them myself, although as little as I can—but they are not essential to the life of a town. A healthy town centre with diversity of planning is essential.

Great play is made of the fact that the present market is in economic decline. There must, I am afraid, be reason to doubt whether it has been managed as well as it should have been, and even, I am afraid, as to whether the heart of the present management is in managing it well. It has been said on the very best authority that where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, and there is a lot of treasure involved in allowing the market to decline and then promoting a Bill like this.

It is possible that there will come a time when the economic and social factors are such that a supermarket is more wanted by the local community than a cattle market in Hailsham. Then it might be right (though even then I would probably doubt it) to revoke the actions of our ancestors and pass such a Bill as this.

But this has not yet occurred and your Lordships will bear in mind that the proponents of this Bill stand to gain a large amount of money from the passing of the Bill, while the bill (in the other sense of the word) will be paid by the farming, and indeed the whole rural community, of the area. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the Bill be now read a Second time, to leave out ("now") and at end to insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Beaumont of Whitley.)

2.10 p.m.

Lord Hoyle

My Lords, I am sorry to intrude on your Lordships' time to make my maiden speech, particularly as it is getting rather late on a Friday afternoon for the House to be sitting. Nevertheless, I must say a few words in relation to the Bill and about myself. It might be at first considered that I am rather unusual in speaking in an agricultural debate, particularly as in another place I represented two urban areas; namely, Nelson and Colne, which was famed for its textiles, and Warrington, in which I saw the change from declining industries such as steel and engineering to new technologies and the industries of the future.

However, as we say about many things, all is not what one sees at first when looking at something. I claim that I am specially privileged to be able to speak on agriculture in this respect. I make the point that I have never lived in a town. I spent all my life in a village; namely, the village of Adlington, which is on the Pennines, where there is a large number of farmers, particularly farmers with store cattle, and that is what we are referring to today. Also my first constituency was Clitheroe, which is well known for agriculture and in which I had to gain quite a lot of knowledge about agriculture itself. Even as regards Nelson and Colne and Warrington, while they are industrial, there are many farmers, in particular in Warrington, which is surrounded by the plains of Cheshire in which farmers proliferate.

One of the aspects that I remember about my time at Clitheroe is that in 1992 I not only spoke on agriculture but I was often called on by the regional party to speak on agriculture in other places. On one occasion I was called on to address the Bolton and District Farmers. Unfortunately, for some mysterious reason the two prospective candidates suddenly found that they could not be there.

The other spokesperson at the meeting was the late Alderman Edwin Taylor, who had won a by-election to be the Member of Parliament for Bolton, East. You could say that Alderman Taylor was a card. Indeed, in the north-west we would say that he was a character. As he had a confectioner's shop, he was known locally as "The Pie-man". I did not know what to expect when he went along to the meeting. When I got there, I said, "Alderman, it's your constituency, after you", but he said, "Don't bother about that, lad, you go first". So, off I went. There was quite a large audience. Although people listened with interest and asked a number of questions I could see that they had not come to hear me; they had really come to see the local champion, the alderman. I was like a rabbit being pursued by a stoat and I could not help but look at the huge pile of papers that was in front of Alderman Taylor. I could see that they were all about agriculture. I stared and stared at the papers.

When I sat down to loud applause, up got Alderman Taylor. He got hold of the pile of papers, threw them on the floor and said, "These were sent to me by Central Office. As you know I am a busy man and I haven't had the time to read any of them. I say this to you: if you don't believe in subsidies, I don't; and if you have a query, please write to me at my office", and he sat down. I do not know who was the more startled—the audience or myself. It is a pity sometimes that we do not have Alderman Taylor in this House. I am sure that we would have shorter speeches.

I return to the Hailsham Cattle Market Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, who spoke on behalf of the promoters to move the Bill, said that throughput is failing, partly because many of the cattle now go direct to an abattoir or are bought by supermarkets. For a period the closure of Haywards Heath market in 1990 improved the input, but it has now been in decline since 1992. As we have heard, although efforts have been made to make the cattle market viable, it has not proved possible and the decline still continues. Unless the Bill is carried, the company will not want to continue with the lease after 2001.

On the other hand, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the other side of the argument is that we must bear in mind that there has been a Hailsham cattle market since the 13th century. If it closes, there will be no other live cattle market in Sussex. As East Sussex is not suitable for other forms of farming, apart from store cattle for which it is ideally suited, cattle from those farms would have to travel long distances on poor roads. That would be bad for the health of the animals and would increase costs for farmers.

As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, commented, it is not believed that the present owners have really tried hard to make the market viable. Indeed, it is said that they are more interested in its closure so the site could he used for a supermarket, as has been mentioned. Although an alternative site has been offered (at Blackbarn Farm, two miles outside Hailsham), many of the local objectors do not believe that it is suitable for the purpose for which it is being presented. Indeed, they do not think that planning consent would be given.

For all of those reasons—we shall no doubt hear more from both sides during this debate—I rise to put forward the Government's position. The Government are neutral on private Bills unless those Bills conflict with government policy. I am pleased to be able to tell the House that on this occasion the Bill does not conflict with government policy and that the Government's position is one of complete neutrality.

2.18 p.m.

Lord Monk Bretton

My Lords, I start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, on behalf of the whole House on his maiden speech. I am glad and grateful that he chose to take an interest in this debate. The noble Lord brings to this House experience from a most varied and busy political career. I hope therefore that we shall continue to receive his wise counsel for a long time.

I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Kenilworth for accepting the instruction than I tabled. He deserves the thanks of the House for giving noble Lords at long last the opportunity to give this Bill a Second Reading. Rather a long time has elapsed since the Bill was read a first time.

I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for his somewhat drastic amendment to the Motion that this Bill be read a second time. I suspect that that was the catalyst that prompted my noble friend Lord Kenilworth to accept the instruction that I tabled. Now that has happened, I believe that on balance it is best that the Bill, together with both instructions that have been tabled, should go to the Select Committee on the ground that it will provide the surest decision most quickly. I say "on balance" because I am concerned about the finances of some of the petitioners. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has already said, the House should bear in mind that this imposes a serious burden upon them.

At this stage I declare an interest. As a dairy farmer, I use the market. I live at Lewes, which is 18 miles from Hailsham. My family also owns land on the Pevensey Marsh. The market is of very great importance to the marsh. It is wet marsh that can do little else but fatten cattle, which it has always done very well. I am biased. I live in hope that the Select Committee will give this Bill short shrift in short time. I am of opinion that the promoters are spreading unnecessary doom and gloom among other things. Perhaps they protest too much.

As instructions can relate only to matters not covered by petitions—there are already 10 petitions against the Bill—before I speak to the instruction that I have tabled I should like to make a few general remarks about the Bill. Its purpose is simply to close Hailsham Market and develop the site. That will make a material difference to livestock farm economics in East Sussex in general and Pevensey Marsh in particular. Fifty years ago there were too many live auction markets; now we are rapidly reaching the stage where there are too few. For a long time the process has been left to market forces. In the past, regulation was found to be necessary. This applied for a very long time. One must bear in mind that Henry III granted the first Royal charter to Hailsham Market. That was amended in 1871 to get cattle off the street. As a matter of principle, I do not believe that now is the time to repeal any more of this old legislation. We may otherwise lose markets that we should not lose. This should be done only after the most thorough consideration. Markets have been closed down not because they are unviable but because of steeply rising property values. What is happening to live auction markets apart from Hailsham should be brought to the attention of this House. I make no apology for doing so.

To return to Hailsham, there is abundant evidence that the town wishes to keep its market and to remain a real market town. The shopkeepers and the town council say so. Farmers from a wide area around say so. The most important petitioner is Wealden District Council, the planning authority. Significantly it voted 51 to nil in opposing the Bill. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Newton is to make his maiden speech. He has been on Wealden Council for the past 10 years. So I shall say no more about that and leave it to him.

The House will find a great difference between what Wealden District Council says about planning and what the promoters say in the Bill's preamble. I stress the need to keep the market in Hailsham. It is a significant part of the town's historic identity. I am sorry that Lewes lost its market. Hailsham should try not to. The shareholders in the cattle market company should not expect Hailsham to surrender the cattle market against its will.

The Bill's preamble indicates a brave new world without live auction marts. In that connection I spoke to my noble friend Lord Wade of Chorlton, who cannot be here to speak today. He said that it is the live auctions which form the true markets and which set the prices. I had that confirmed by my contacts in the Meat and Livestock Commission. Live auctions are not yet dead. I shall leave that matter to my noble friend Lady Cumberlege, because it is a subject upon which she has something to say.

I understand that South East Marts and Anglo Dutch Meats are both subsidiaries of a company called Cyberfoods. Anglo Dutch Meats is a substantial owner of abattoirs, operating on dead weight and grade. I am not alone in taking the view that that group favours dead weight and grade. Hence its desire to close markets. That is why it closed Haywards Heath, is currently closing Thame market in Oxfordshire, and is trying to close Hail sham.

I believe that I may now start talking to my instruction. The Bill's preamble states that the Hailsham Cattle Market Company, the owner of the market which leases it to South East Marts, has an agreement with Carter Commercial Developments Limited, who as I understand it are specialists in supermarket developments, to develop the market site. Little light has been thrown on the terms, who would benefit, and to what extent. Does that agreement preempt any serious attempt to look for alternative bodies to run the market?

The petitioners have evidence that the market could be made more profitable, certainly post-BSE; that other market traders would be interested and likely to pay the proprietors better rent than they have been receiving. That is in contrast to the gloom expressed in the Bill's preamble. The promoters appears to have conceded the need for a continuation of some sort of market by the last minute suggestion which came from their parliamentary agents to a few noble Lords, and which has not been referred to the petitioners, that a seasonal store market in some farm buildings in a nearby parish would be a sufficient answer. We have already gathered that the local farmers do not regard this as a satisfactory replacement. All kinds of difficulties relating to this unresearched proposition have suddenly burst upon us.

When South East Marts closed Haywards Heath market, it promised a satisfactory alternative market, which was to be off the London/Brighton Road. That market never materialised; the area remains as green a field as ever. Hence, promises from South East Marts have been trusted no further by farmers in Sussex. As regards the Hailsham Cattle Market, should not the promoters be obliged to find a satisfactory alternative and to have it up and running before they ask Parliament for permission to close the present market? If they go down that road, they must give a copper-bottomed assurance and provide truly adequate facilities.

If the Bill is read a second time, and I understand that it will be, I urge your Lordships to support my Motion for an instruction and the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, particularly as they have already been accepted by the promoters. This is by no means the time to consider closing Hailsham Cattle Market.

2.32 p.m.

Lord Newton

My Lords, I should declare an interest in that I sell cattle at Hailsham Market and, as my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton said, I am a member of Wealden District Council, which is one of the petitioners against the Bill.

I am convinced that there is a need for some live market facilities to be retained. Although I do not trade in stores, many of my farming neighbours do. For that trade there is no satisfactory alternative to a live cattle market and it would be unacceptable to have to transport stock to distant markets beyond the county boundary.

An alternative site at Blackbarn Farm, Lower Dicker, has been proposed. I know the site extremely well—I used to own it. Even 10 years ago, it was highly dangerous to emerge from the farm. At that point the A.22 is much busier today. As a result, it is hard to believe that the local planning authority will grant planning permission for a cattle market on the site.

The planning policy of Wealden District Council, as expressed in its deposit local plan, is that the Hailsham Cattle Market is not subject to a specific allocation, nor does it lie within the town's main shopping area. Consequently, if new shopping facilities were proposed the applicants would need to present a particularly strong case and to satisfy a number of criteria, the most important being that the requirement for the site can be demonstrated. As a result of the presence of two supermarkets close by, there must be some doubt whether such a need can be established. I also know that there would be concerns about the impact of a new shopping development on the amenities of local residents, the local highway network and the designated conservation area.

It is argued that an alternative use of the town centre site would be of advantage and that the amenities of the neighbouring residential properties would be improved. When permission for the housing developments was granted, account was taken of the existence of the cattle market. According to the records kept by the district council, in the four years ended February 1997 there were on average only three or four minor complaints per year about the market. They were on the grounds of smell, flies from manure storage, noise from washing lorries, tannoy and music, and in one case a bonfire. In each case the response of the council was no more than what is euphemistically called an "informal referral to operator".

It is difficult to believe that the use of the site as a supermarket would be a better neighbour. Moreover, it is likely that lorries servicing a supermarket would cause just as much inconvenience to residents as the cattle lorries do at present.

If the market were to close, many residents of Hailsham believe that that would have an adverse impact on the prosperity of the town and the surrounding area. It is felt that the market is an asset in promoting town revitalisation and attracts visitors from a wide area. It is difficult to see any advantage to the people of Hailsham or the surrounding area from the closure of the market. Indeed, many local organisations, including the town council, oppose it. I hope that I am not being controversial or excessively self-interested when I say that I should deeply regret its closure.

2.35 p.m.

Lord Wrenbury

My Lords, it is a particular pleasure for me to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Newton, on his maiden speech. That is partly because I have never done such a thing before and partly because I find that we share the same school and the same profession, so he must obviously be a thoroughly good chap. I hope that we shall not have to wait as long to hear from him again because I understand that he succeeded to the title some five years ago. No doubt he delayed addressing your Lordships while getting to know the procedures of the House. The noble Lord made a very interesting speech with important points put forward forcefully and well, as I can testify because I was hoping to make some of them myself. I am sure that we all look forward to hearing from him in the future.

I begin by making one extraordinarily obvious point; so obvious, in fact, that we may lose sight of it. It is that we are engaged in a democratic process and not a judicial process. When there are solicitors and counsel briefed to represent the interested parties before the Select Committee and sums are spent running into hundreds of thousands of pounds—I know one interested party has reserved £100,000 for this alone—when people talk about an estimated three-week hearing and when, quite properly, the formal documentation requires approval by the Private Bill Office, it is hardly surprising that the affair takes on the appearance of a trial.

But, in fact, we are engaged in a democratic process. Your Lordships will readily agree that that means listening to the will of the people. In the present case, I have noticed a reluctance on the part of some of those with the greatest personal interest in the outcome—by that I mean in particular the local farming community—to consider appearing before the Select Committee because they feel that they have neither the resources nor the expertise to do so. That seems to me a thoroughly unhealthy development. In my view, it would be much healthier if spokesmen were forbidden and that expense were cut out. Indeed, it defeats the very purpose for which the Select Committee procedures are devised and leads to too great a professionalism in democratic affairs.

I do not believe that I have any financial interest in the matter, apart from living in the area and having tenant farmers who do. However, I remember vividly meeting my litigation clerk one day who told me that he had been serving writs in my part of the world; in fact, in the same village. I remarked that it was an extraordinary coincidence. He replied, "Yes, we refer to it as the bankrupt belt." The reason is that it is really very bad grade III farming land and, on the whole, people are not very well off.

The provisions of the Bill are actively opposed by 235 local farmers and landowners, 20 independent butchers, a number of market traders, two trade associations, 30 retailers, and 1,640 members of the public who have actually taken the trouble to sign petitions, not to mention the NFU, the CLA, the district council and the town council. Moreover, those who have houses near the cattle market have expressed themselves as being in favour of its continuance.

On the other hand, those promoting the Bill consist of seven shareholders in the Hailsham Cattle Market Company who wish to maximise the value of their investment and the developers to whom they wish to sell. There is no popular support for the Bill. If we are concerned with the will of the people, as I contend we should be, then it should fail at the first fence. I am personally sorry that my noble friend and relation Lord Beaumont of Whitley should have indicated that he may withdraw his Motion. I hope that he will rethink that decision.

I have heard it suggested that referral of the matter to the Select Committee is thought desirable in some quarters because it allows everyone to have their say and, therefore, is overtly democratic. But where is the difference between that and the well-known principle that every man should be allowed his day in court? There is absolutely nothing wrong with that principle; but we are not in court. It is the wrong principle to apply in this instance. We are not here to determine the rights of the parties. Moreover, this is not some kind of planning appeal, or public inquiry. We are hear to listen to the will of the people and they have spoken out conclusively against the Bill. They say that it is something which they most emphatically do not want. Who are we to wish it upon them?

The issue is quite simple: are we charged with looking at the merits of the proposals on an abstract basis and in a judicial manner, as though we were a sort of committee of inquiry, or are we concerned to discover the will of the majority of the people most affected by them? I maintain most strongly that we are here in a democratic and not a judicial capacity, and, indeed, not in a fact finding capacity. I maintain that what the majority of the people want they should have so long as it does no harm to anyone else, and there has been no suggestion of that.

However, in deference to noble Lords who hold a contrary opinion, I shall now go on to consider the objective merits of the Bill, which I am bound to say seem to me to be pretty slender. In the first place, as noble Lords have heard, Hailsham is the only cattle market between Guildford and Ashford. The effect of closing it down, so far as concerns farmers, is not unlike telling a housewife that she will have to travel four or five times as far to the shops in future than she has been used to travelling. In the context of a housewife, you can easily see that if the shops are more than a certain distance away, her life ceases to be viable. Precisely the same principle operates in farming. You cannot get your jobs done if you have to spend too much time on the road. To put the market out of reach in terms of convenient accessibility is to place an enormous and totally avoidable burden on those concerned. A friend of mine who bred Charollais cattle assures me that people came down from Scotland to buy his beef. However, those are pedigree herds; that is not our concern in East Sussex. We are concerned with the very opposite.

Farming in East Sussex is difficult enough without making it any harder. In our part of the world we are not dealing with a robust industry which can accommodate knocks; we are dealing with what has traditionally been a high effort, low return kind of business, the charm of which depended entirely on the quality of life which it offered. However, under present conditions the rewards have become even lower and the charm has almost disappeared. Many farmers are coming to the conclusion that the game is not worth the candle. In my case all my land is about to come in hand, and that is partly due to disenchantment. The reasons include the following: the frustration of trying to deal with endless paperwork generated by the bureaucrats in Brussels who never use the same form for two years together and whose wide-ranging demands impose an insupportable on-cost both in time and money; the difficulty of continuing to run dairy cattle caused by the reluctance of the transport companies to collect milk in the sort of quantities which small farms produce, and the fact that they have changed to new and enormous tankers which are simply unable to get up some of our lanes; and the extremely important fact that the price of milk is de facto determined by the supermarkets because of their unequal bargaining power and not by the producer which therefore makes small-scale production uneconomic.

This has led many farmers to convert to beef or sheep farming only to be caught out by the BSE epidemic. The Government told the farmers what beasts had to be killed and the slaughterhouses told them how much they were prepared to pay. The result was that the farmer was squeezed in the middle. No mention is made in the promoters' briefing note of the fact that increased sales to abattoirs have to a large extent been involuntary for the reasons I have mentioned. It would be wrong to regard farming as a healthy industry in this part of the world; it would be a great deal nearer the mark to describe it as holding on by the skin of its teeth. One of the most important matters that the Select Committee will have to consider, if the matter is ever placed before it, is alternative land use. If farming ceases to be financially viable for the small farmer, what is the land to be used for? Forestry is a dead duck; set aside can hardly be termed a land use; and amalgamation into larger units is not an option unless you are prepared to see hedgerows dug out and larger fields created. That brings us face to face with some serious social and environmental issues.

East Sussex is one of the most beautiful of the English counties and I believe it is the most wooded one. But, like all ecologies, the component parts are finely balanced and the Bill envisages taking away one of the main supporting structures. You cannot take away the pendulum without stopping the clock. If farmland is turned into wasteland, planning procedures cannot reverse the process; all they can do is to prevent things happening and the opportunity for that is now.

I turn to the narrower canvas of the town of Hailsham itself. It already has two supermarkets, the Co-op and Somerfield's—some would say three, if you count Spar. The town has a population of only 17,500 and therefore has absolutely no need of a third supermarket. That is a point worth emphasising since, as we all know, the underlying philosophy of the market-place is to undersell competitors, drive them out of business and then hold customers to ransom for the benefit of the directors and shareholders. I can see no long-term benefit to the inhabitants of Hailsham in setting the scene for a test of strength of that sort.

At the moment public consciousness has not woken up to the fact that supermarkets create undesirable environmental and economic change by their very existence. That is especially true in a market town with some pretensions to being a place of beauty. First, their architecture is out of scale with surrounding buildings and totally unmistakable. Secondly, they bring their own atmosphere with them; it is one of bulk trading, entirely incompatible with the small trader ambience of a market town. Thirdly, they require regular supplying by outsize articulated vehicles which nobody with any regard for the agreeableness and amenities of life in a small town would think of allowing within a built-up area. Fourthly, they deal in food which has often travelled vast distances and which discriminates against fresh food produced locally. Fifthly, they harm the businesses of local traders and local suppliers—they harm the first because they can afford to undercut them until they are driven out of business and the second because, as a result of unequal bargaining power, they distort the normal operation of the market by setting the price at the point of distribution instead of the point of supply. We have not yet woken up to the unfriendly consequences of asking superstores to come and live among us. They could teach the cuckoo a trick or two.

Your Lordships may well ask what are thought to be the supposed benefits of closing down the market. The answer, in a nutshell, is money. The shareholders of the Hailsham Cattle Market Company stand to make a great deal of money if the market ceases to function. It is alleged in the preamble to the Bill that the market is uneconomic; but that hardly squares with the facts. The market company itself appears to make £24,000 rent per annum as freeholder, and at leaseholder level those who are petitioning against the Bill have already established that there is no shortage, as the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, said, of firms ready to take over the lease as market operator. If the present shareholders cannot arrange for the economic running of the market, then let them sell to other people who can.

Contrary to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, the obligation is not upon the shareholders to run this market. They are not the people for whom we should feel sorry. The obligation is on the company. If people do not like owning a company which has that obligation, then they should sell the shares to other people who are only too anxious to buy them and continue running the market. There is no validity in the idea that the promoters of the Bill are in some way hard done by as a result of having the obligation to run a market. It is fundamentally unsatisfactory that such an important concern as Hailsham market should he run by people who have financial interest in seeing it decline. The sooner a change in ownership occurs, the better.

I dealt with the financial consequences to the farmer. I should also mention the social dimension, the importance of which cannot be exaggerated. A market is a friendly place. You meet your friends there. You "chew the cud". You have a drink—at least you do if the market is in Hailsham. You most certainly do not if it is moved two miles outside to Lower Dicker, where there are no pubs. A drink is important. You enjoy bangers and mash in the refreshment booths. You catch up on prices and are able to see what you are buying and what you could get if you were thinking of selling. Local gossip is exchanged. Old friends meet one another. Problems and complaints are aired. Know-how is exchanged. Crop performance and cattle prices are discussed.

And that is only half the story. The wife is happy. She is taken into town to do her shopping. The local traders are delighted to see her and she meets her friends. Indeed, for some wives it is the only form of outing they get. One farmer wrote to me saying that being a farmer these days is a very lonely occupation because he has had to dispense with his farm-hands. We should not forget the stall-keepers and all those who have subsidiary market activities, such as selling veterinary services, and so on. There is a great deal more to a market than an accountant ever realises. It throbs with life and interest. Yet these are the very things that the Bill will do away with.

As noble Lords will see, I put down an Instruction to the Select Committee, which I gather may find favour with your Lordships. I have done so because rumour reaches me of a proposal to relocate the market at Black Barn Farm, Lower Dicker, a proposal, incidentally, which ignores the fairly substantial sums which have recently been spent on improving the facilities at Hailsham market.

I agree with everything said by the noble Lord, Lord Monk Bretton, about the necessity, if Hailsham market is closed, of ensuring that the promoters of the Bill are financially obliged to have an alternative site up and running, as he put it, before the old one is allowed to close. In outline, what happened in the case of Haywards Heath was that an undertaking was given, and no doubt that undertaking might have been honoured had the Department of Transport not been altering the roads at the time, which made it impossible to provide access to the new site while the old market was still running. Whether that is a correct summing-up of the situation, I do not know, but it was a total disaster as far as the farmers using Haywards Heath market were concerned and it must not be allowed to happen again.

My second reason for the Instruction relates to the argument put forward by the promoters of the Bill that farmers can just as easily go to Guildford market, which is run by the same people, South East Marts. But for how long? Rumour says that the continuance of that market is not guaranteed: the local authority has its eyes on it for some quite different use. It seems to me that the Select Committee would want to ensure that it is given the full facts because no useful purpose is served by building on sand. I therefore hope that noble Lords will support the Instruction.

3 p.m.

Baroness Cumberlege

My Lords, I know that the collective noun for girls is a "giggle", but I am not quite sure of the collective noun for maidens—at least in your Lordships' House. I shall not attempt one this afternoon. But I should like to congratulate two very distinguished Peers on their amusing, powerful and authoritative speeches. I look forward to hearing more of them in the future.

I start by declaring two interests. The first is that Hailsham market is our local market and the estate that my husband runs uses it. In fact, only this Tuesday I went with him to the market where he was selling some barren cows. My second interest is, I suppose, vicarious in that my butcher uses the market. He is one of the best butchers in Sussex. But it occurred to me when I went to the market that with the recent E.coli outbreaks all the emphasis has been on traceability. But from my point of view, traceability is a non-issue. My butcher can tell me exactly on which pastures my Sunday roast was reared. So I have no problems with that. That perhaps is quite a lesson for the country.

We know that the vast majority of towns now are dominated by their supermarkets. But market towns are different. They are dominated by their markets. Cattle markets are situated in the heart of towns, on prime sites, sites which are coveted by supermarkets. It is no secret that they not only want the sites for development, but also want to see an end to the traditional cattle market, because they are the source of meat for independent butchers. Cutting off that source of supply hastens their demise and helps the supermarkets to monopolise the trade.

A few weeks ago Stourminster Newton market closed. That was not just another small market but the largest calf and cow market in Europe. Why? It was in order to make way for a supermarket. South East Marts, the operators of Hailsham market, has no compunction when it comes to asset stripping. We have heard already this afternoon that it sold Haywards Heath market to Sainsbury's. Thame and Guildford markets, I understand, are also under threat. But Hailsham?—Hailsham is protected by us, by Parliament.

As my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton said, it is the free market established by cattle markets that determines the price of meat. Destroying the cattle markets leaves price determination to supermarkets and their closely controlled suppliers. They seek to control both the price of milk and the price of meat. There is no regulator to ensure competition. So that falls to us.

Islington man may deplore subsidies for farmers and consider the countryside to be a public convenience. But there is a small simple step that we can take and that is to maintain competition and ensure that farmers get a fair price for their produce. It does no harm that supermarkets from time to time should have to buy in the open market and to be the highest bidder. Markets are public places, open to anybody's scrutiny. It would be good for the public to see what supermarkets buy and whether their "best British" is in fact the best.

I am not scaremongering. I quote directly from a welfare code dictated by supermarket buyers to our local dairy, a code of welfare which, although admirable in parts and very much welcomed by farmers, conceals the agenda to remove the open market from the farmers' options: Whilst the welfare of stock after leaving the farm may not be under the control of the farmer, stock for slaughter may not be sent to a slaughterhouse conforming to relevant UK and EU legislation … evidence must be provided". The point to note is that the markets are not mentioned. Of course, it is right that animals should be humanely killed and all abattoirs should conform to regulations. But this is another prong in the attack against the free market. That code prohibits a farmer from sending his cattle to market. If he refuses, his milk will be rejected. It requires him to send his cattle to a slaughterhouse, where the supermarkets have control of conditions and price. The supermarket then buys the cattle market to exclude any free option and replaces it with one of its superstores.

Islington man gravitates towards Terence Conran at the Pont de la Tour for his £50 luncheon. He and his smart friends have no empathy with the farmer, who gravitates towards the market with his two quid all-day breakfast. Farmers may be a tiny minority but they produce the majority of food for ordinary people, if not for Terence Conran. Around Hailsham, they maintain that area of astonishing scenic beauty, the Weald of Sussex.

Hailsham market has thrived for 750 years. I am sure that, if it were a stately home, it would be fiercely protected. But because it is an institution, it, like the ways of country life, has no protection against the determined assaults of urban man, except in ancient law, of which we, as parliamentarians, are the guardians.

We are also traditionally the guardians of the countryside. As the noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, said, Hailsham sits in the heartland of some of the most beautiful landscape in the British Isles; landscape which is predominantly pasture. The land-use census figures compiled by MAFF confirm that. But it is the quality of the landscape which is so impressive.

Within the catchment area for the Hailsham market is the South Downs environmentally sensitive area; the High Weald, which is designated to be of outstanding natural beauty; the Pevensey Levels, which are of special scientific interest; and the areas of the Low Weald, Wealden Green Sand and the Romney Marshes. It is of course the farmers who are directly responsible for maintaining that heritage. They in turn require a local market in order to carry out their business. They are not going to subject their livestock to a 100-mile round trip in order to maintain their commercial activities, and the temptation to plough will be very great.

The loss of the market therefore threatens not only the way of life of the farming community, but the appearance of the landscape and the ecology in one of the most beautiful parts of Britain. I urge your Lordships to support the instructions put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, and my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton, for when this Bill goes before a Select Committee of your Lordships' House, as I suspect it will, we will want the committee to know the strength of feeling among your Lordships.

Lastly, when the Bill goes before the Select Committee, if it does, costly evidence will have to be put forward by the petitioners—the NFU, the Country Landowners' Association, the district and town councils, local commercial interests, including independent butchers and, of course, the Hailsham Market Action Group—representing a wide range of interests of the local people. Those interests are very strong. They are fighting extremely hard against losing the market. Like the noble Lords, Lord Beaumont of Whitley and Lord Wrenbury, and my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton, I wish it were possible to spare them that huge expense. It will probably be inevitable, because this is the only way to deal with the Bill. However, I wish them every success in their endeavours and I hope that the battle to maintain the cattle market in Hailsham is handsomely won.

3.7 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, the strength of feeling that this Private Bill has engendered is well illustrated by the list of distinguished speakers who have put down their names to take part in the Bill's Second Reading. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, how much I enjoyed his speech. I should also like to tell him that I had the great honour of opening Clitheroe's new cattle market. While doing so I was approached by some photographers. "Come and have your photograph taken with me", I said to a group of farmers. "Oh no, we couldn't possibly do that", they said; "We haven't got our teeth in". One nearly always gets the truth from farmers. That cattle market too is in danger.

I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, with great interest, particularly his remarks about the lack of enthusiasm of the present proprietors. His amendment, attractive though it is, will not—I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury—rid us of this obnoxious Bill; it will merely delay it. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, has agreed to withdraw his amendment. I am also extremely grateful that my noble friend Lord Kenilworth has said that he will accept both the instructions in the names of my noble friend Lord Monk Bretton and my noble friend Lord Wrenbury.

My reasons for supporting the instructions are as follows. My noble friend Lord Kenilworth, on behalf of the promoters, virtually maintains that the present market is dying on its feet. I believe that with proper management there is a need for the present market to take place throughout the year, not just on a seasonal basis, for the foreseeable future. As other people have said, Hailsham market is the last live market in Sussex. There is already one supermarket in Hailsham. As a fervent supporter of small shops, my immediate reaction to yet another supermarket in the town is a feeling that its creation would mean leaving blanks where little shops used to be, no doubt including the butcher of my noble friend Lady Cumberlege.

I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Newton on his very informative speech. I share many of his sentiments. My main contention as regards the Bill concerns the promoters' offers of alternative accommodation. First of all, I ask myself, if they think the present market is not viable, why have they bothered to offer an alternative site? Secondly, I understand, for a variety of very good reasons such as bad buildings, no adequate car parking, no proper washing facilities, no proper safety precautions regulated by MAFF and the local authority, and no proper effluent disposal arrangements, that the Blackbarn Farm site is totally unsuitable.

Furthermore, I understand that the situation with regard to the A.22 is far from satisfactory. A new access would need to be created with permanent hard standing for parking. Planning permission would be required both for the access and the proposed change of use and for any new buildings to be erected on the site. There is no certainty that this could be obtained.

Lastly, at the time of the closure of the market previously operated by South East Marts Limited at Haywards Heath, assurances were given that a new market site would be built at Hickstead, but, despite the closure of Haywards Heath market some years ago, no new market has been built. I really do feel that no further market should be allowed to close in reliance upon an assurance to provide an alternative market site until the alternative site is operating, thereby ensuring the smooth transfer of the market operation as a going concern.

When you get a united front from the farmers who use the present market, the Wealden District Council, the NFU and others, all of whom are against the promoters of the Bill, it is time to take a stand and support their view that the termination of a cattle market facility in the Hailsham area would be damaging to local agriculture, the associated countryside and the rural economy of the area. I very much hope that the Bill will not proceed to the statute book.

3.12 p.m.

Viscount Hampden

My Lords, having put down my name to speak in the debate and oppose the Second Reading of the Bill and support the Instructions so ably moved by my noble cousin Lord Monk Bretton and the noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, I thought it would be rather impertinent of me to speak without ever having set foot in the Hailsham market. So I set off yesterday to have a look at it. I drove in and out of Hailsham three or four times, being unable to find the market. There were signs for the public library, public conveniences, an amenity centre and the industrial estate. There was even one for something called the Cuckoo Trail. But there was no sign for the market. However, I did in the end find it and spent some 10 minutes walking around and peering into the auctioneer's den. I can well understand why the person in Hailsham responsible for trying to attract tourism into Hailsham does not festoon the A.27 with large signs saying "Ye Olde 13th Century Market Place".

However, we are not here to discuss architectural merit or the fact that a more profitable use for the site could be found. That is self-evident. We are here to try to stop a way of rural life being destroyed, which would happen if this market ceased.

I have no livestock and so have no direct interest in the market. My family estate does, however, own some 5,000 acres of farmland, partly in the Downs near Lewes and partly in the Weald near Mayfield. It is the farms around Mayfield, being in the area covered by the Wealden District Council, which also covers Hailsham, as we heard from my noble friend and neighbour Lord Newton, that I wish to discuss. I want to give the House some idea of the kind of farms that operate in the Weald.

We start at a small farm of 120 acres. The farmer also directly owns another 50 acres. He is a sheep farmer and came to the farm when he was six months old. He is now well into his late 60s and was widowed suddenly earlier this year. When I saw him yesterday he told me that he was still sorely missing his wife, but he had had some fantastic support from the farming community around. Indeed, one farmer telephoned him two days after his wife's death and said, "You're coming to dinner one night per week from now on". I cannot stress how important this rural mutual support is. Some three years ago I went to a meeting representing the Sussex branch of the Country Landowners' Association for a conference chaired by the Bishop of Lewes and Hastings on stress in the countryside. One of the farmers in the same area of Mayfield told us of the stress caused by loneliness experienced by farmers as one by one small farms were sold up and amalgamated. The noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, touched on that in his speech and the noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, also mentioned that fact.

The next farm that we called on is larger, a dairy farm farmed by a man, his wife and two sons, so in that case continuity is assured. He too has been there a long time. He was telling me yesterday that when he first arrived they still burnt charcoal down in the wood below the house. As part of the community spirit, for many years his wife has provided Sussex cream teas in a farm barn for handicapped people who come out in a special coach. That is another example of community in a rural area.

The next is another dairy farm with a son following his father. I had difficulty in finding him yesterday, but the smell of new-mown hay led me to where he was. I told him why I was coming up to your Lordships' House this afternoon. He said, "I rely absolutely on Hailsham market for my beef enterprise. You must do everything you can to keep the market open". Those are not my words, but those of a young man struggling to make a living in the Weald. I must stress that making a living is all we are talking about because no one makes any money in the Weald. The noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, also confirmed that.

At the top of the hill is another small farm of 67 acres. If I said that this farm was actively farmed I might be exaggerating. The farmer is over 85 years of age and he has been there since 1942. He always greets me standing in his garden pumping water from a well. "Morning, master", he says. He always calls me "master" which is a brilliant ploy as it so disarms me that I forget that I have come to talk about a rent increase. "Just getting some water to flush out the privy", he said. He nods towards the outside lavatory as if suggesting that I might do something about it. If there is anything more idyllic than spending a pleasant, fine afternoon leaning on a five-bar gate at the top of the Rother Valley, listening to an old man reminiscing about the old days, I cannot think of it.

The last farm we shall visit in this sort of walkabout is a farmhouse which does not have any water at all. However, the farmer who operates the farm lives in a cottage nearby. In fact, he delivers water to the house in a kind of bucket on the back of his farm trailer. He told me that he does not do it very often because the occupant of the farmhouse does not like to dilute his whisky too much. This particular farmer who delivers the water farms 50 acres of his own and 50 acres of my land, as his father did, and lives in a thatched cottage which used to belong to my family. Just before the war it was lived in by an author who gave my predecessor a copy of a book with the inscription, To Mr. Humphrey Brand from his tenant, the author. [signed] Pamela Travers". The book is called Mary Poppins. I believe that Mary Poppins country is very much what this delightful Rother Valley is. I thought it important to take noble Lords on this walkabout to show the kind of people who farm in the Weald and how important this market is to them.

3.18 p.m.

Viscount Gage

My Lords, the Act that the noble Lord, Lord Kenilworth, has proposed is that the Market Act 1871 be repealed. If he is successful that will inevitably lead to the cessation of the traditional weekly practice of holding cattle markets down at Hailsham, Sussex. In my opinion the demise of this market will be a sad loss to the farming community and I declare an interest as a local farmer. It will lead to a number of undesirable consequences. In general, it would mean the further erosion of traditional rural farming practices and the replacement of local with national and commercial concerns. The potential ensuing loss and damage to the environment in its broadest sense has been eloquently put forward by my noble friend Lady Cumberlege.

But I would like to deal with the more specific matter of the difficulties of replacing an established and ancient market system, one first established in the 13th century, and the practical effects of such a change in the farming and peripheral trades.

The Act of 1871 was naturally concerned with promoting commercial profitability and improving trading practices, but its emphasis lay, according to the needs of the time, on allowing small farmers and breeders an outlet for their trade and a forum for exchanging goods across a broader spectrum. Its concern was to promote social justice and equity among all the participants. Livestock trading has now of course achieved a national dimension, but both for practical and social reasons this should complement, not replace, the older, local system.

Hailsham market is a centre which brings together a number of interrelated small businesses and country trades. Without the market as a focal point, they may experience serious difficulty in continuing profitably. For example, local butchers who buy direct from the market would not be able to compete with the larger chain stores which buy nationally; hauliers who specialise in local stock movements would find difficulty in competing with established long-distance specialists and local traders would lose the outside trade that is generated by the attractions of market day. It would be iniquitous if the dedicated traditional careers of so many were to be sacrificed to the commercial interests of outside parties.

Local stock farmers would obviously be the worst affected, particularly those with mixed livestock and smaller herds. The loss of a local outlet would mean for many a change in farming practice. It is simply not viable to transport animals considerable distances to market. It has been said that it would cost £14 per head of cattle for transportation to Guildford and £10 per head to the nearest other market at Ashford. Although some cost is involved in getting the same beast to Hailsham market, obviously the other costs would be two or three times greater.

I am sure that all noble Lords are aware that the issue of live animal transport has generated considerable concern in recent years—and rightly so. To risk encouraging the need for the long-distance transportation of often immature farm animals would be detrimental to good farming practice. Alternative ways of marketing livestock have been instituted in recent years, but with only limited success, as they do not answer the needs of the smaller farmers. For store cattle, the sales of which make up a large percentage of the trade of Hailsham market, there is simply no alternative.

The Bill, which seeks to repeal the 1871 Act, is promoted by the Hailsham Cattle Market Company and Carter Commercial Developments Limited. They have produced a document to support their contention that Hailsham cattle market in its current form is not a viable concern and should either be abandoned or replaced on another site with an alternative, modernised market more suited to contemporary needs. The existing site would therefore become available for alternative commercial development and we can only speculate as to who would stand to gain from this opportunity.

Hailsham market is the last live animal market still operating in East or West Sussex, apart from an occasional sheep market held at Rye. These markets often occupied sites situated in the centre of country towns and therefore potentially are of considerable commercial value to developers, as is the case in Hailsham. An alternative use for the land may produce a greater capital value, but this does not in itself mean that a cattle market is not a viable use for the land. The townspeople and local farmers believe that there is a need for a local market and that it encourages business, while the local residents do not object to its continuation. The market would benefit from improved management and promotion and this would seem to remain a realistic and desirable option—preferable to the disruption and inconvenience concomitant on its demise. The retention of the market is consistent with present-day government policies for the environment, transport and economy and with the original spirit of the Act of 1871. I hope that that Act remains in force.

3.24 p.m.

Lord Cadman

My Lords, this is a most unwelcome Bill not only because we have to be here to discuss it on a Friday afternoon, but because it involves relieving the present market operator at Hailsham of the responsibility of running a cattle auction there, with the subsequent loss of such a facility to a very large number of farmers. It seems that redevelopment as a supermarket site is involved. I have nothing against supermarkets—in fact, I rather enjoy shopping in them—but a recent quick visit to Hailsham revealed that there are already two supermarkets in the town and that the arrival of a third would do nothing to enhance the desirability of Hailsham as a shopping centre. We have heard that this is the reason why the local authorities are petitioning against the Bill.

One of my interests is railways. The redevelopment of supposedly surplus railway land into supermarkets is becoming highly controversial, especially with regard to need. It is the policy of the new Government to encourage the use of this mode of transport. My farming experience over many of my earlier years was gained around what has now become Milton Keynes. I managed to escape from there early enough to be able to farm on my own behalf about as far north in Buckinghamshire as I could get. Indeed, half the farm lay in Northamptonshire.

In my time I kept many different kinds of livestock, and marketing them to the best advantage was a problem. It soon became apparent that the local auction mart was the best solution. As Northampton was but eight miles away it was there that I went. It should be remembered that a farmer not only has to sell but to buy. This covers not only livestock but an enormous variety of other things. Incidentally, a farmer also must be able to operate all kinds of extremely complicated mechanical equipment safely and keep it properly maintained, and he has to apply and handle many different types of chemicals, some quite hazardous. It is a bit of a tall order, which is perhaps why farmers are not very well understood by the rest of society.

Farmers are also the custodians of the countryside and as such their position in society must be safeguarded. In that connection I associate myself with similar remarks made by other noble Lords. The local cattle market provides a place where one can not only buy and sell livestock in complete confidence, and get paid, but can trade arable crops and in many cases machinery and normally find someone to help with and discuss almost anything, socially or otherwise.

The facility at Northampton has succumbed to redevelopment even—it must be said—in part to a supermarket. But in this case a 13-acre industrial site has been purchased outside the town and properly equipped as a modern livestock market, with associated overnight truck stop facilities for the transport fraternity. There is a licensed cafe and excellent access just off the eastern bypass road. All of that cost the best part of £1⅓ million. Much of the funding has come from local agricultural interests, including auctioneers and local livestock traders. It seems strange that much the same kind of thing has not or will not happen in Sussex.

There is a lot of competition around Northampton. Banbury is not too far away. There is a good market at Rugby and there are others in the vicinity. In Sussex there appears to be no such competition. Looking at the Order Paper, unbelievably it appears that there is some risk to Guildford. The market operators do not appear to be interested. They are not serving the agricultural community or the town of Hailsham as they should, and for that I do not believe that the Bill should proceed in its present form.

During my time spent farming in North Bucks one of my neighbours, who derived much of his income from livestock trading, was a regular attender at Haywards Heath. Cattle that he purchased there would be passed on to other graziers, kept at home or possibly sold on in local markets such as Northampton. Another family who farmed in the area were, and still are, heavily involved in this activity, sourcing cattle in Guildford and Salisbury. Until its closure Haywards Heath was another source. Eventually this firm takes some of the cattle traded at Hailsham store market, although it does not attend personally. This demonstrates that there is a ready market for cattle raised in Sussex and the south of England to be further grazed and finished on the perhaps traditionally more fertile pastures of the Midlands.

As an occasional customer of these traders I may well have had on my farm stock born and bred in Sussex, and they have never given me any cause for concern. Cattle often benefit from a change of scene, and the removal of a point of sale under the circumstances of this Bill must be highly undesirable.

The one good thing about this debate is that it enables us to take a hard look at how the loss of similar cattle markets to various forms of development has affected the agricultural scene in general. This particular site is enshrined in parliamentary legislation, but many are in the hands of local authorities which have found themselves charged with providing a place where the very necessary business of agricultural trade can take place. For various reasons—I have already spoken of one—many authorities have found it necessary to redevelop their market sites and move the facility out of the town. Why cannot the same thing take place here?

If the Bill receives a Second Reading this afternoon, and I hope that it will, it will go before a Select Committee, to which, it seems, adequate instruction will be given. Select Committees of the House have an excellent reputation for deliberating on knotty problems. I have had the privilege of serving on two of them. The petitioners can rest assured that their concerns will be well addressed. So I hope that we give the Bill a Second Reading so that the Select Committee, having been well instructed by other noble Lords, can ensure that in no way will the Bill survive in its present form.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Kenilworth on bringing forward the Bill. He has displayed great courage in doing so and has proved to be an admirable devil's advocate in promoting what most other speakers and I feel is a Bill which should not have been brought forward. In his excellent maiden speech, the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, was fair in his assessments. He weighed matters weightily in one hand, then the other, and came down firmly in the middle. Freed of the responsibilities of government, I shall not follow along that course. On the other hand, I shall not be tempted into too great a discussion on the individual merits of the Bill.

The first question we have is whether the Bill should be given a Second Reading or whether it should be delayed for six months. Had the Bill remained in the form it was when it first came before us, and with the advocacy that then accompanied it, I have no doubt that we should have refused it a Second Reading. I know that I shall be in trouble with the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, for saying this, but it is not often that we do that although I voted for the voting down, as it were, of the Usk Bay Barrage Bill where at the end there was an equality of votes.

It is a simple matter. If the principle of the Bill is so objectionable that it should not be allowed to waste our time or the objectors' money, we have a duty to vote it down on Second Reading, and for that to be an end to it. Having listened to my noble friend Lord Kenilworth and everything else said today, I believe that the promoters have made sufficient motion to allow the matter to be discussed with enough good sense and clarity, and with the possibility of compromise, that we should let it go forward to the next stage. But it should be on the clear understanding that what the Bill's promoters are asking for is a concession from us.

The promoters do not have an asset; they have an obligation to run a market. They should not regard the money which might come from the site as theirs to do what they want with, subject to shelling out a few pennies to people who might be affected by the Bill. This is a market. They have to show that it should no longer be run, and that the the consequences of that, which, in principle, would be a large sum of money, will be fairly and equitably dealt with. That is what I hope will be considered by the committee. That is the judgment that we trust to it.

The promoters have, as has been said, offered an alternative market site. My noble kinsman Lord Newton, in what was another excellent maiden speech, made clear why it was unacceptable to have a market at Dicker, although dicker would be an acceptable thing to do at a market. I hope that that is a view and an understanding that will be shared by the committee. We can leave it to the committee with added confidence, because, should that process go wrong and it returns a verdict so at odds with the evidence that it has received that it is objectionable to us, we of course retain the right to reject the Bill on Third Reading. All things considered, we should support the general sense of the House today, give the Bill its Second Reading, subject to the Instructions which have been proposed, and see what proceeds thereafter.

3.35 p.m.

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, as the Chairman of Committees is temporarily indisposed it has been suggested that I should stand in his place to say the few words that he would have spoken at this stage in the debate. It is not his responsibility nor is it mine to take part in discussions on the merits of the Bill. However, as a Motion has been tabled which would reject the Bill on Second Reading, it is proper that I should intervene briefly to remind the House—not that it necessarily needs reminding—about some of the procedural implications of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley, even though he has indicated his intention to withdraw it.

There is no doubt that the House can reject a Private Bill on Second Reading, although it has not done so since 1937. That is probably a longer time than the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, was thinking of—in fact, it is probably longer than the noble Lord, Lord Lucas! I am sure that the House will want to bear in mind the effect of giving a Private Bill a Second Reading. In contrast with the Second Reading of a Public Bill, the Second Reading of a Private Bill does not amount to the House giving its approval of its general principle. From what we have heard today, noble Lords will be grateful for that reassurance.

If the House agreed to the Second Reading of the Bill the effect would simply be to agree that the Bill should be considered by a Select Committee. It is the Select Committee to which the Bill is committed which decides on its general principle. The Select Committee has the right to reject the Bill if it sees fit. The noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is correct in saying that after it is accepted by the Select Committee, if it is, it will come back to this House for further consideration.

3.36 p.m.

Lord Kenilworth

My Lords, in closing the debate, I wish to emphasise the fact that in deciding upon the merits of the Bill a great deal of detail remains to be discussed. As the promoters are approaching the matter in a spirit of compromise, the decision is likely to be constructive.

I thank all noble Lords for having participated in the debate, which proved to be extremely interesting if somewhat heated. I hope that your Lordships will allow the Bill to proceed to a Select Committee, as is the custom of this House in relation to a Private Bill.

3.37 p.m.

Lord Beaumont of Whitley

My Lords, I shall not attempt to say anything about the merits of the Bill because the debate speaks for itself. I suspect that the Hansard record will be a fine document for those who want to talk about the countryside in the future.

Before asking your Lordships' permission to withdraw my amendment, I must touch upon one point. The noble Lord, Lord Wrenbury, asked me to look again at whether I should do so. I have enormous sympathy with his plea that the Bill should be "strangled at birth", to quote Sir Cyril Smith in another context. I know that other noble Lords have, too. However, we have taken advice and believe that the point is not how quickly but how thoroughly it should be strangled. It is in order to enable a thorough strangling job to be done that I ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.

Lord Monk Bretton

My Lords, I beg to move the Instruction standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee to whom the Bill is committed that they should consider:

  1. (a) the relationship between the market company and Carter Commercial Developments, the joint promoters of the Bill, and South East Marts Limited, including any contractual arrangements between the parties and any third parties relating to the property of the market;
  2. (b) the possibility of other bodies taking over the operation of the market; and
  3. (c) what alternative arrangements could be made for the establishment and maintenance of a cattle market in the Hailsham area, prior to the closure of the existing market, which would be both viable and sufficient for the needs of the local farming community and other market users.—(Lord Monk Bretton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Wrenbury

My Lords, I beg to move the Instruction standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an Instruction to the Select Committee to whom the Bill is committed that they should consider the circumstances in which other markets managed by South East Marts Limited have been closed and the extent to which provision was made for their replacement, and the likelihood of the closure of the market at Guildford.—(Lord Wrenbury.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.