I have been considering what is the most convenient course for the House to adopt on this Bill and the various Instructions which are set down about it.
I propose, when the Bill has been read a Second time, to call the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) and other right hon. and hon. Members, which is an Instruction to the Committee to leave out Clause 9.
First, however, we have to decide whether to give the Bill a Second Reading, and I apprehend that there may be points in the Bill other than Clause 9 on which hon. Members wish to speak. If so, in view of the fact that we are to have a debate later, focused on Clause 9, I ask them to leave out from any remarks which they think of making on Second Reading and reference to Clause 9, because we shall deal with that later.
On a point of order. With respect, I think that the procedure which you have suggested, Mr. Speaker, will be very convenient. May I take it that you will also call the Instruction in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds), which deals with an entirely separate and rather shorter point? The Instruction is:
That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to amend the Bill to conform with the terms of the Agreement between the Corporation of London and the London County Council, dated 6th April, 1959, relating to the storage of horticultural produce and containers, and to annex the Agreement as a Schedule to the Bill, in accordance with S.O. 157 (Agreement to be annexed to bill).
Further to that point of order. I hope that the House will accept the suggestion which you have made, Mr. Speaker, and that in our discussions on Second Reading we shall not refer extensively to Clause 9. I am happy to accept that suggestion, and I think that the remainder of the House will also agree. I suppose, however, that it would not be out of order if on Second Reading an hon. Member referred to Clause 9 inadvertently.
It would not be out of order, but I have suggested a certain procedure for the convenience of the House by which no hon. Member's right to criticise the Bill is in any way impaired, because, if the Bill is read a Second time, we shall later have a discussion focused upon Clause 9, which I understand is the chief point of criticism of the Bill. Does any hon. Member rise to speak on Second Reading?
As you have said, Mr. Speaker, the main Clauses for discussion in the debate later this evening are those dealing with the marketing provisions in Islington, but this Bill has 23 Clauses and I should like to refer to one or two matters which are contained in it, other than marketing.
Incidentally, may I express my thanks to the Chairman of Ways and Means and, presumably, the Leader of the House for obtaining in a slightly unorthodox but nonetheless suitable form extra copies of the Bill so that these are available to hon. Members for the debate?
Because of my connection with local government, I was interested to see Clause 18 in the Bill. In Clause 18 we see the continuation of what appears to be becoming a trend for local authorities' superannuation funds. The idea of investing superannuation fund money in equity shares and similar shares first came out in the publication presented by the Labour Party entitled National Superannuation, in which attention was drawn to the fact that superannuation fund money should perhaps be invested in other stock than normal Government guaranteed stock.
At that time this idea was denounced by a large number of hon. Members opposite as a back-door way to Socialism and back-door nationalisation. A host of other phrases of that kind were used. Indeed, there were objections by the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance in the debates which we have just concluded on the National Insurance Bill. I must, therefore, express considerable surprise to see that a highly respectable corporation, which has probably almost a 100 per cent. Conservative membership, is putting forward in Clause 18 a proposal which will enable it to invest its superannuation fund money in equity stocks, thus bringing about what was said to be back-door public ownership of private joint stock companies.
The first local authority to make this type of proposal was the Manchester City Corporation, a Labour-controlled authority, which decided that it would be a good idea if it could invest some of its superannuation funds in other than Government guaranteed stock, of one kind or another. A year later the London County Council, another Labour-controlled authority, made similar proposals. The Manchester City Corporation took exactly as many words as the City of London Corporation has taken in this Bill to lay down the proposal. The London County Council found a way of doing exactly the same thing in about four lines.
The proposal in Clause 18 is word for word the same as the Clause approved by Parliament in the Manchester Corporation Bill, except for one very big and I think very important difference. The number of words is the same, and the words themselves are exactly the same, until we come to near the end of subsection (1) (ii). While the Manchester City Corporation and the London County Council were content to obtain powers from Parliament to enable them to invest up to one-quarter of the total amount of money in their superannuation fund in equity stocks of one kind or another, the City Corporation, a 100 per cent. Tory authority, wishes to be far more Socialist than the other two authorities and asks for powers to invest up to one-half of the total assets of the fund in equities and other stocks of that kind.
Apart from the substitution of one-half for one-quarter, the words in the Clause are exactly the same as those contained in the Manchester Corporation Act passed by the House nearly two years ago. At first glance anyone would assume that the request was exactly the same as that of the Manchester Corporation, which Parliament approved in the Manchester Corporation Bill. One of my hon. Friends suggests that the City Corporation is twice as Socialist. One could almost say that, and one is surprised that a provision of this nature is being inserted by the City Corporation, which is the most Conservative of all local authorities. I am surprised that a solidly Conservative authority of this nature wishes to go in for what hon. Members opposite have called back-door nationalisation and back-door public ownership. The City Corporation apparently thinks that it should have powers to invest up to one-half of its superannuation fund money in equity shares.
I do not wish to go into the question whether, after what we heard in debate last week, it is desirable for superannuation fund money, money held on trust, to be invested in the type of shares which can be dealt with on the Stock Exchange in the way in which certain interests have been dealing with shares in the last few months. You would in any case probably rule that out of order, Mr. Speaker. I must ask, however, why the City Corporation, having lifted in its entirety the Manchester Corporation Clause, wishes to have power to invest up to one-half of the superannuation fund in equities whereas the Manchester Corporation, the London County Council and, through the London County Council Act, the Metropolitan borough councils have been satisfied with obtaining powers from Parliament to invest up to one-quarter of their superannuation fund money in this type of stock.
I think that the time is probably coming when we ought to have general legislation covering all local authorities in this matter. We realise that it is the normal practice for one or two authorities to introduce provisions of this nature and eventually for general powers to be given to all local authorities, but when that time is reached, shall we decide that the proportion should be one-quarter or one-half? If Parliament has set the pattern by approving the proposal of two local authorities, Manchester City Corporation and the L.C.C., that they should have power to invest up to 25 per cent. in equities, we ought to be given some good reason why the City Corporation wants to go to 50 per cent. If this is not done, as the next few years pass we may find that most local authorities which introduce local government Bills will ask for authority to invest half of the money in equities. We ought to be given some explanation why this provision is contained in the Bill, since it is so different from that in the Manchester and London County Council Acts.
I notice also that the Bill makes certain proposals about the preservation and proper keeping of deer in Epping Forest. The only way in which I would have known that there were deer in Epping Forest is that, having been through the forest by car, I have suddenly come across notices warning me that deer might come across the road. I must confess never having seen deer in the forest, but I assume from the notices that they are there.
I understand that Epping Forest was bought up in pieces by the City Corporation during the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I understand also that before that time the deer there and the rights to vert and venison were the property of the Crown. Apparently
in February, 1870, the House of Commons passed a Resolution asking Her Majesty, as she then was, if
she would take such measures as in her judgment she might deem most expedient in order that Epping Forest might be preserved as an open space for the recreation and enjoyment of the public.
Her Majesty replied that she was graciously pleased to express
her concurrence … in the desire that open spaces in the neighbourhood of the Metropolis might, as far as possible, be preserved for the enjoyment of her people.
That Resolution became in due course the Epping Forest Act, 1871. Conservators of the forest were set up. The City proceeded apace to buy up some more open space in the area.
The City Corporation in the Epping Forst Act, 1878, managed to persuade the House that, as the Corporation owned such a large proportion of the area, they themselves might be made the conservators of the forest. The City Corporation, as the conservators of the forest, are instructed in Clause 4 of the 1871 Act to preserve the deer as objects of ornament in the forest.
I notice that the Bill which we are discussing provides for the setting up of a deer sanctuary adjoining the forest. I did not know what the legal meaning of "adjoining" was. I looked it up in a certain dictionary, but I was not very much clearer afterwards. I understand that, generally speaking, it would not be land in the forest, but would presumably be some more land owned by the Corporation abutting on to the forest and which it intends to make a sanctuary for deer.
Are the deer to be herded out from Epping Forest into this area? The deer are possibly a danger to traffic and themselves in the forest, as more and more people use it. If that is the intention, it seems to conflict with the virtual instruction given to the City Corporation in Clause 4 of the Act of 1878 that the deer must be preserved as an object of ornament in the forest itself. I hope that we can be given some information about the intention of the City as regards this proposal. Does the Corporation intend to get rid of the deer from the forest and put them into a certain compound where they will be safe and can be properly looked after and where the City Corporation can make regulations governing admission? Are they to be taken permanently from Epping Forest, which would conflict with Clause 4 of the Act of 1878, or is this new area intended primarily as a place where the deer can be taken temporarily so that they can return to the forest and, as Clause 4 provides, ornament the forest for the benefit of all those who use it?
I do not wish to detain the House any longer, because I know that some of my right hon. and hon. Friends hope to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, to refer to the Metropolitan provisions in the Bill for dealing with the Lord Mayor's Show and other topics. I wished to refer to those two points because they are very important. I hope that before we conclude the Second Reading we can be given some information about why the City Corporation wants this power to invest one-half of its superannuation fund in equities and what its intentions are with regard to the powers referring to the preservation of deer.
I intervene to express the hope that at least some of the Bill, if not all of it, will pass through the House tonight. For that reason, I shall probably find myself at odds with my hon. Friends who represent the Metropolitan Borough of Islington, a borough which I confess that I do not know as well as other parts of the Metropolis. It is indeed a rather fearsome thought that we are having a debate tonight in which all three of my hon. Friends who represent Islington will be taking part. I believe that this has never happened before in the history of this Parliament and it may be a long time before it happens again.
I hesitate to interrupt my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), but I cannot let go unchallenged the statement that the three hon. Members from Islington have not taken part in the same debate previously. Housing, as the House will hear later, is a very great problem in Islington. I can assure my hon. Friend that all three of us have spoken in one day during debates on housing.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) for that correction, which perhaps will make it unnecessary for all three hon. Members representing Islington to take part in tonight's debate. That will provide a better opportunity for other hon. Members interested in other aspects of the Bill to take part in the debate.
I do not know about the Metropolitan Cattle Market in Islington. All I remember is that at one time there was the Caledonian Market, which for some reason had its existence terminated. I suggest that any reasonable proposal which will help to alleviate the deplorable conditions prevailing at present in Covent Garden Market should be sympathetically considered. Those of us who have occasion to pass through central London know what an immense problem is constituted by the existence of Covent Garden Market in the heart of London. There should be some provision to solve the storage problem, which is very grievous in Covent Garden. Suitable provision should be made in other parts of the Metropolis, which I believe is the intention of the Bill.
I see that you, Mr. Speaker, do not want me to develop that point at too great length. For that reason, I shall confine myself to what I regard, from the point of view of the general public, as at least one of the most important Clauses, namely Clause 5, which relates to Lord Mayor's Day. For many years now I have endeavoured with different Governments and different Home Secretaries to persuade the authorities concerned to take some action as a result of which Lord Mayor's Day could be held on a Saturday. That would be to the convenience of all those people who have business to do in the City on an ordinary weekday and who have hitherto found themselves frustrated in a variety of ways, such as being prevented from keeping appointments and having their cars diverted into a mass of unusual routes, simply for the purpose of enabling the Lord Mayor's procession to take place on the statutory day, which could be almost any day in the week except a Sunday.
It has sometimes happened that Lord Mayor's Day, as appointed by Statute, fell on a Saturday. The result was that very large numbers of school children, who could not possibly see the Lord Mayor's Show on an ordinary day, had an opportunity to see it, but that has happened only on very rare occasions. Therefore, there are many thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of children in the Metropolitan area who have never been able to see the Lord Mayor's Show.
Clause 5 will surmount that difficulty and provide the people of London with an opportunity to see what is regarded as a joyful and festive occasion without causing disruption and inconvenience to large numbers of their fellow citizens. Whatever conclusion the House may come to tonight on the consideration of the Bill, I hope that very careful steps will be taken to ensure that something that I have been struggling to obtain for many years will not be blocked at the last moment. I doubt very much whether the City Corporation would have decided upon including this Clause in the Bill but for the very good example set by the authorities concerned with the Trooping the Colour, as a result of which the Trooping the Colour will now always be held on Saturdays. It was only after that announcement was made that the final inducement, apparently, took effect and the City Corporation decided to amend the appropriate legislation that would enable the Lord Mayor's Show to take place on a Saturday. It will be a surprise to many hon. Members that the Calendar Act, 1751, had to be amended to achieve this happy result.
I appeal to my hon. Friends who represent the different constituencies in the Metropolitan Borough of Islington, however, not to be too persistent in their criticism of Clause 9 and other parts in the Bill which they may not like very much at present. I am sure that the London County Council, being a reasonable authority, and the City of London Corporation, being, perhaps, not quite so reasonable, but at least amenable to approach, will come to a satisfactory arrangement with the objectors to the Bill as a result of which the particular needs of the Metropolitan Borough of Islington will be met in a reasonable way without having to jettison the City of London (Various Powers) Bill and the London County Council (General Powers) Bill. These General Powers Bills are essential—
I hope that what my hon. Friend says is correct. I have an uneasy feeling, however, that once the House starts to jettison Clauses of a Bill, the promoters of the Bill may take a poor view of the situation and throw their hands in. I do not want that to happen. I do not want to see a situation in which these Bills, which are necessary from the viewpoint both of the City Corporation and the London County Council, are unduly impeded in their progress towards the Statute Book. I want the people of London to see the Lord Mayor's Show on a Saturday and I do not want the Bill to be held up to such an extent that the Lord Mayor's Show which is due to take place next November will have to be held on a weekday simply because there has been delay in getting the Bill on to the Statute Book as a result of the, no doubt, worthy and legitimate doubts and fears of my hon. Friends who represent Islington.
In those circumstances, I appeal to my hon. Friends who represent the three Islington constituencies, and one and a half of whom have already taken part in this debate—at least, we have had one speech and one intervention from them—not to be unduly critical. If the Bill is allowed its Second Reading, it should be possible by further discussion between the parties concerned to achieve whatever result is desired by my hon. Friends and to allow the Bill to get on to the Statute Book at the earliest possible moment.
I cannot allow the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) to pass unchallenged. I was amazed at some of the things he said. I do not deny that my hon. Friend is entitled to some measure of credit for his persistent efforts to try to change the day on which the Lord Mayor's Show takes place. The Lord Mayor's Show on a weekday has been a nuisance and a menace to the people of London for a very long time. To that extent, but to that extent only, I applaud the campaign which my hon. Friend has conducted.
I go further, however. I do not agree with my hon. Friend in what I regard as a quite unworthy adulation for the Lord Mayor's Show. It comes ill from anybody on these benches to try to perpetuate a piece of mediaeval pagentry which I regard as out of date and which merely serves to build up the prestige of the least democratic local authority in the country.
I remind the House that for a long time there has been a campaign for the abolition of Lord Mayor's Show day altogether as being completely out of date.
Unlike the view expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton and echoed by my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish), I prefer the sentiments expressed by that well-known Conservative paper, The Times, which in an article in 1946 said:
We may regard the standing in a crowd for some considerable time to see the Lord Mayor's Show pass as an act of folly second only to that of waiting for film stars to arrive at Waterloo Station. It is idle to pretend that the emblematical cars have not lost most of their glamour.
A great deal of nonsense is talked about the Lord Mayor's Show. It is quite idle in this day and generation to suggest that it offers any attraction. It has certainly nothing like the attraction which it may have had in days gone by before there were other entertainments for schoolchildren. I have no doubt that there was a time when it served its purpose in the same way as, I have no doubt, there was a time when Lord Mayors served a much more useful purpose than they do today. I say that without any disrespect to the Lord Mayor or to the City Corporation, because the present Lord Mayor happens to be a personal friend of mine. I would not like anything I said to be taken as in any way derogatory of the Lord Mayor.
The is a democratic assembly. We shall hear presently what the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) has to say, but I would be astounded if any hon. Friend of mine on these benches were prepared to serve to perpetuate this out-of-date system, this adulation of the Lord Mayor.
I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton of the parody of the verse of a well-known hymn which schoolchildren used to sing last century. They used to sing:
All things bright and beautiful,
All teachers great and small,
All things wise and wonderful.
The Lord Mayor made them all.
That is not the outlook in which we want children of this generation to grow up.
That is a new suggestion, but it is not in the Bill. The more I read the Bill, the more I am inclined to vote against it in toto.
My interest was, naturally, to look first to the part of the Bill dealing with the Islington site and the Cattle Market. By reason of that interest in Part III, however, having had occasion to study the Bill I am more convinced than ever that the House would be mistaken to give these additional unnecessary and unreasonable powers to a City Corporation which is already swollen with its own importance and which already makes a pretention which no other municipality in the country would dream of making. My hon. Friend has referred in that context to the difference between the London Country Council and the City Corporation. If we are ever to increase the prestige of the London County Council, we shall not achieve that object by perpetuating this mediaeval dignity of the Lord Mayor, which is so particularly prominent on Lord Mayor's Day.
Perhaps the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, who, I understand, is sponsoring the Bill, will kindly explain, for my benefit and for that of some of my hon. Friends, what I regard as some of the misleading, or, certainly, not warranted, statements in the Preamble. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton has said, we are seeking to amend the Calendar Act, 1751. As my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is well aware, that was one of the most controversial Acts ever passed in this House.
It took away our eleven days. It produced violent reaction in the country. As the House knows, the occasion of the Calendar Act, 1751, was to put the country on the basis of the Gregorian Calendar, as distinct from the Julian Calendar, in accordance with which we regulated our affairs for a very long time. The rest of Europe, I believe—and my right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) will know about this better than I do—adopted the Gregorian Calendar in the sixteenth century but we did not adopt it until 1751.
The odd thing is this. The effect of the Calendar Act, 1751, was to eliminate from the calendar all the days between 3rd and 14th September, 1751. As a result of that, eleven days were wiped out of the calendar. All other days, all other feasts and celebrations, retained their precise calendaric dates. Christmas Day continued to be on 25th December, Lady Day on 25th March, and so on. There was no interference with any of the feast days except in the case of the celebration of the Lord Mayor's Show, because prior to 1751 the Lord Mayor's Show was always celebrated on the day after the Feast of St. Simon and St. Jude. That is why we are changing the Calendar Act. Incidentally, may I remark in parenthesis that, like Charles Lamb, I can never understand why these two saints were lumped together and celebrated on the same day. I should have thought that was an unnecessary economy.
This is a most interesting disquisition and I am sure it is as instructive to other hon. Members as it is to me, but I should be obliged if the hon. Member would indicate exactly how his remarks about the Gregorian Calendar and 1751 are related to any provision in this Bill. Will he indicate where it comes in this Bill?
I must say that I had assumed the hon. Member was familiar with the Bill which he is sponsoring. If he will look at the Bill he will see that Clause 5 (2) starts by saying:
Section 4 of the Calendar Act, 1751, shall have effect as if
a certain substitution were made. At the very end of the Bill, in the table of
statutes, there is reference to the Calendar Act, 1751.
This is a matter of some historical importance. For some reason which I have never known, or, if I have known it, it now eludes me, in 1751 the calendar was not only changed to the Gregorian Calendar but the date of Lord Mayor's Day was changed from the day following the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude to 9th November. It may have something to do with the Michaelmas law sittings. The only reason, as I understand it, why any change in the law is required on this subject is that by statute, the Lord Mayor has to obtain Royal approval to his appointment, and he also has to take the oath formally in what used to be the Court of Exchequer but is now the Queen's Bench Division. That is something which I accept and regard as quite reasonable should continue.
What I object to is the assumption that that must be coupled with the Lord Mayor's Show, for there can be no necessary connection between the two. It does not matter to me on what date the Lord Mayor's Show is held. I should have thought, if anything, that it should be held on a day which was convenient to the judges of the Queen's Bench Division. They happen to sit every weekday but they do not sit on Saturdays. Therefore, if their convenience was the only thing that mattered, I should have thought that Saturday would be the least convenient day of the week for the Lord Mayor to take the oath. I would be happy for him to take the oath on a weekday, but I do not regard it as necessary to have all the paraphernalia of the Lord Mayor's Show in order that he shall take the oath. I see no reason why he should not go from Guildhall to the Law Courts by taxicab or by bus. I would dispense with all this out-of-date pageantry. I would let him take his oath in the Queen's Bench Division like any other citizen. That would be far more in accordance with our present democratic custom. I doubt whether it is true to say, as the Preamble to the Bill says, that it is
in accordance with ancient custom and the expectations of the citizens
that the Lord Mayor should participate in such a ceremony. I ask the House to take a modern and realistic view of this matter.
Having had my suspicions aroused about the evil effects of Part III of the Bill, I was naturally obliged to look at the other parts of the Bill and I find those equally objectionable. I think it will solve the problem of the Islington Members, and will probably save the time of the House in debating subsequent Motions, if the House takes a realistic view and does not give this Bill a Second Reading at all,
My hon. Friends who have already spoken have put a number of questions, and I hope that in due course they will receive replies from a representative of the promoters of the Bill. It is important that a Private Bill should be properly considered and that as far as possible questions asked by hon. Members should be answered.
So many Private Bills go through their Second Reading in this Chamber "on the nod", and perhaps that is a suitable procedure for many of them, but now and again we get a Private Bill which merits careful scrutiny and consideration by hon. Members. Generally local authority Bills have been considered very carefully and the local authorities promoting them are responsible and accountable to an electorate. That is so with every local authority in this country except for the Corporation of the City of London. Therefore, when the House grants powers to the Corporation of the City of London we should remember that we are granting powers to a body that is not subject to the ordinary democratic processes of democratic election and democratic scrutiny by an electorate that votes on the composition of the Corporation.
On a point of order. Is the hon. Member in order in stating that the Corporation of the City of London is not democratically elected when, as a matter of fact, it is?
I understand the hon. Member's concern when his attention is drawn to the fact that the Corporation of the City of London is in a peculiar position in our democracy and is unlike every other local authority in its constitution, powers and method of election. In almost every way the Corporation of the City of London, for historical reasons, is quite different from every other local authority in the country. Because the Corporation of the City of London is not, I repeat, subject to the normal democratic checks, we in this House must watch with particular care when that undemocratic body comes here and asks for powers. Therefore, it is our duty to look very carefully at the powers for which the Corporation is asking. I hope that in due course a representative of the promoters will reply to the points made by my hon. Friends and myself.
I will not go into the historical considerations which surround Lord Mayor's Day and the day upon which it is held I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has dealt with that point with great profundity and extensive historical knowledge, but I hope that very soon Lord Mayor's Day will be held on Saturdays, because time and again in corning to the House I have been held up by the procession.
I assume from my hon. Friend's argument that he is not against the holding of the Lord Mayor's Show, but if we are to change the date of it, would he not agree that it would be a good idea to bring the mayor-making of the City of London into line with the legislation of 1948, which changed the date of mayor-making of all boroughs from November to May? Also, if we are to have a different date, would it not be preferable that children should watch the show in May rather than in November?
Yes. Without giving much great thought to that point, I should have thought that it would be reasonable that this open-air ceremony should take place in the summer months rather than in November. I hope that my hon. Friend's suggestion will receive the attention of the promoters. They can perhaps bring in another Bill, possibly in another Parliament, and seek the consent of Parliament for the Lord Mayor's Show to be held in the summer months. I only hope that it will not be held on a day when I am coming to the House. It has held me up far too often. We know that the traffic conditions in the City of London are quite deplorable.
I do not think that my hon. Friend should be too optimistic, because under the present Government we have had emergencies from time to time which have necessitated the House sitting on Saturdays, so there is the possibility that my hon. Friend will still be impeded if he wants to come to the House to attend an emergency debate.
That is so, but that would be an exceptional occasion and I am prepared to take the risk.
By Clause 8 of the Bill, the Corporation for the City of London asks for power to acquire land compulsorily, whether within or without their boundaries, subject to the authorisation of the Minister of Agriculture. That is a rather far-reaching power. If it is granted, the Corporation will be able, with the consent of the Ministry of Agriculture, which seems very inclined to give its consent to the Corporation's wishes, compulsorily to acquire land in the area of any other local authority.
Yes. As I understand it, the Corporation will be empowered, if Clause 8 is passed—I do not seriously object to the Clause, but I want to put one or two points to the promoters on it—to acquire compulsorily land within the area of any other local authority in England and Wales with the consent of the Minister of Agriculture. I suppose that it will be subject to the usual planning consent. Perhaps a representative of the promoters can clear up that point. If the Corporation wishes to obtain a compulsory purchase order in respect of land within another local authority, it will have to comply with the decisions of the planning authority. I hope that the promoters will confirm that.
The idea behind the Corporation in asking for this power is to provide market storage facilities on land outside the walls of the City. I suppose that the Corporation could go into Bermondsey and acquire a piece of Bermondsey compulsorily and use it for the overflow of Billingsgate.
Likewise, the Corporation could compulsorily take a piece of land in Brixton for the overflow from the Borough Market. By this Clause the Corporation would have power to acquire land within the area of every local authority. That is a fairly extensive power, and it is subject only to the decision of the Ministry of Agriculture which presumably is the Ministry which cares for markets generally, such as meat, fish and horticultural markets—
I should think not. As this stage of their life the Government would not indulge in the black market.
I want to put one or two questions to the representative of the promoters. Is it the intention to find an overflow for Billingsgate? Presumably the Corporation wants this power to buy land so that it will have an overflow for Billingsgate, Smithfield or Borough Markets. I should like some information about what is at the back of the mind of the Corporation in taking this power of compulsory purchase beyond its boundaries. Of course Billingsgate should not be there. A fish market in the middle of the financial centre is an intrusion, and I hope that the Corporation is not thinking solely of annexes for the city markets. Taking a long view, I hope that these markets, even Smithfield Market, will be placed further away from the busy, overcrowded and congested centre of the Metropolis.
I hope that the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe), who I suspect will reply, will answer as best he can the questions which we have raised. There has been some levity whilst they have been raised, but we sincerely ask for information about the matters which have been mentioned. I hope that we shall receive as adequate an answer as is possible in the circumstances.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) referred to the undemocratic character of certain features of the government of the City of London, and I should like to follow him on that point. We are asked to give a Second Reading to a Bill to confer various powers on the City of London Corporation. I should be rather reluctant that the House should confer various powers on the City of London Corporation unless the City of London shows some inclination to make its form of local government more democratic than it is at present.
Local government authorities usually work on the one-chamber principle. The City of London is unique in adopting the device of a two-chamber government. Certain of its powers are exercised by the Court of Common Council and others by the Court of Aldermen. Certain other powers, indeed, are exercised by a separate body called the Court of Common Hall. I cannot feel that that tri-cameral system of government is very suitable for conducting the affairs of a local authority.
When one looks at the Court of Aldermen, one finds, according to an account given in a reputable work of reference, that there are twenty-six aldermen. There are, in fact, twenty-six wards, and one would commonly have supposed that one alderman was elected for each ward. That is so of twenty-four of the twenty-six wards. The remaining two, I understand, share one alderman between them, and the twenty-sixth alderman is elected for a ward called Bridge Without, which I believe has a notional rather than a geographical existence. I cannot think that so complex an arrangement as that makes it easy for citizens to understand and respect their local government.
Furthermore, aldermen, once elected, are elected for life. That seems a most undemocratic procedure. What are the inhabitants of the City of London, even the inhabitants, if there are any, of the ward of Bridge Without, to do if during the lifetime of an alderman after he is elected they become dissatisfied with the way he applies himself to his duties? I think that the City of London Corporation, before asking for these various powers, should have considered a matter like this, even in regard to the Court of Common Council which does the major part of the local government work of the City of London.
It may be said that this is a democratically elected body, that there is an ordinary electoral roll of voters and that if more candidates come into the field than there are seats on the Council there would indeed be an election, and that that has, indeed, been known to happen. I am acquainted with this matter because some years ago I lived in the City of London in a ward which, if I remember rightly, was called St. Andrews by the Wardrobe. While I was living there the time for the election of the Court of Common Council came round, and fourteen common councillors of that ward who had been common councillors for some time all stood for re-election, to the alarm—
Will my hon. Friend also make the point—I have no doubt that he is aware of it—that there are still represented on the Court of Common Council persons who purport to be elected representatives of the ward of St. Giles, Cripplegate, although there has been nobody living in that ward and no ratepayers paying rates in that ward since 1940, and that this House recently approved an Order in Council allowing persons elected many years ago to remain in office another five years representing nobody?
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend. I wish I had known about that when I was living there I might have got myself elected.
As I was saying, fourteen councillors for the ward in which I was living all stood for the election. A fifteenth person—I do not wish to make any personal point about him, and so I will simply refer to him as Mr. Smith, though that was not his name—also stood. This caused the very greatest concern because it made it necessary to hold an election in the ward. Therefore, the fourteen sitting councillors issued an election address. In it they made no statement of policy. It simply stated that they had been councillors for a long time and that, in effect, they considered that was a good reason why they should go on being councillors. Mr. Smith issued a counter-election address pointing out that a good many years previously, before the war, he had been a councillor, and he considered that was a good reason why he should become a councillor again. It was with that minimum of information that I and my fellow electors in the ward were invited to make a choice of fourteen persons out of the fifteen who were soliciting our suffrages.
It was desirable that in order to take part in the election of the council one should attend a wardmote and cast one's vote by hand in no secret ballot. Duties at the House prevented me from attending the wardmote, but I had a reliable report from a friend who attended it. My friend arrived a few minutes after the wardmote had begun. A magnificiently dressed beadle at the entrance to the hall said briskly, "They are voting for Mr. So-and-So. Put up your hand." My friend felt that this was not quite the way in which an election should be conducted, and he waited for all the names to be called in order to cast a more discriminating vote. At the end of the voting by show of hands it appeared that the fourteen sitting councillors had all been re-elected and that Mr. Smith was unsuccessful, whereupon the supporters of Mr. Smith demanded that a poll should be held.
The official presiding over the proceedings—I am not quite sure of his name—was very much taken aback, and said "I never thought you would do that." However, as Mr. Smith and his supporters had been so inconsiderate as to do it, a poll had to be held. I must confess that, although there appeared to be no vital difference of policy among the fifteen persons, I thought I would strike a blow for democracy if I voted for Mr. Smith in order to express the view that the mere fact that one is on the council is not a sufficient reason for remaining on it. However, very few of my fellow citizens in the ward were of that opinion, and the fourteen sitting councillors were re-elected. Nobody in the ward had at any time been informed as to what their policy or the policy of their opponents was.
I will not discuss the method of selection of the Lord Mayor, because that would take very much longer, and I am hoping to hear it explained and justified by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe).
Since we have here a local authority whose system of local government is almost unbelievably cumbrous, which uses the device of the election of people to local government for life and open voting by show of hands and apparently arouses so little interest among the electors that it is extremely difficult to get an election going at all, and even when there is an election nobody thinks it necessary to tell the electors what their policies are, I think the City of London Corporation should have done something to put some of those things right before asking us to confer various powers upon it.
The Bill seems to increase the powers of a so-called local authority which already has too many powers and ought to be restricted. Like some of my hon. Friends, I have never been very much impressed by the so-called pageantry of either the Lord Mayor's Show or the City Corporation. What I am sure about is that it is an anachronism in London government which ought to have been removed many years ago. Therefore, I am not very keen on extending the Corporation's powers. It seems to me that the Bill extends its powers in a way which has already been refused to many local authorities.
I refer particularly to Clause 8, which provides the Corporation with compulsory powers to purchase land outside the City. I can understand it being "outside the City". It would be rather difficult to buy any land in the City, if there were any vacant, for it would be at an enormous price. However, the Corporation is asking to be given powers to purchase land outside the City, and presumably that means anywhere in London or around London.
I noticed a moment or two ago that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government was present. He has now disappeared. Every time we point out to the Ministry and the Government that one of the troubles about house-building in London is that the borough councils and the county councils have no land on which to build and we suggest that they might be given powers to take land outside London, every Tory in the House opposes it, including the Tories in London and Westminster and including the whole of the Government.
It seems to me that if it is wrong that the local housing authorities, dealing with a service to the people which I think is infinitely more important than the storage of empty cabbage boxes, cannot have the powers to acquire the land necessary to deal with the 50-odd thousand very urgent cases of housing in London, and the 150-odd thousand others on the list, there must be a very poor case for giving powers to the City Corporation in this way, when it is an authority which we think already has too many extra powers, because it represents the so-called wealthy and ancient City of London.
I am suspicious, maybe because I am a Cockney, but let us suppose that the City Council acquired the powers to buy this land for a market purpose. Is the City Corporation then to become, if not legally, the marketing authority for London? At the moment, I think that there is a case for a properly thought out and organised system of markets, controlled not by the City Corporation, but by the existing local government organisations in London. The sooner that comes, the sooner we shall get some sense and organisation into our markets, and, I believe, very much cheaper provision of the food and other things which London gets through its markets, than if we go on in the present way.
The history of the City of London has been read by some of us, and we know how it sought to increase its powers and how it has managed somehow to do it when other authorities were losing their powers. It managed to keep its privileges and the rest of the geegaws which it likes so much. This House should think very carefully before deciding to give this authority the extra powers for which it is asking for a purpose which ought to be dealt with, and which previous commissions of inquiry have said should be dealt with, in a different way; namely, by the reorganisation of the London market facilities on sites on the outskirts, as is the practice on the Continent and also in some parts of this country. This would provide us with better, more efficient and cheaper services, and would get: rid of the horrible mixture of traffic congestion which takes place in the Strand each morning when the market is open.
It seems to me that the House might be running a serious risk in passing this Bill. I hope that somebody representing the City Corporation will reply to this debate and will tell us why we should give these extra powers to the City Corporation in order to extend these market facilities in the way provided in this Bill. I hope the House will not agree to do so.
For the benefit of the Minister, who is not here now, perhaps I may repeat that I am particularly interested in the suggestion that the City Corporation shall be given extra powers compulsorily to buy land outside its own boundaries, even if only, as in this case, for the purpose of providing storage facilities for market apparatus. I hope that the House will note that this has been asked for, and that the next time we have a debate on London housing—which I hope will be more effective, successful and of longer duration than the one we had recently, and will answer the suggestions which we have thrown up time after time—we shall hear that the pukka democratic authorities in London—the borough councils and the L.C.C.—will be given power to take land outside their own boundaries by compulsory purchase order, subject, of course, to all the conditions which are attached to such an order.
If they had those powers, they might be able to cure in our lifetime some of the horrible housing conditions which so affect the people of London. I hope that we shall be told something more about this Clause before we pass this Bill on Second Reading.
We have heard five speeches in this debate so far but not a single word in favour of this Bill. I consider it to be a thoroughly unsatisfactory Bill; indeed, a hotch-potch of a Bill, with so many different Clauses which do not appear to be particularly related.
I want to add a word to what some of my hon. Friends have said in relation to the City of London Corporation, which is a thoroughly undemocratic body. I have long thought that it was ripe for a take-over bid by the L.C.C. It would be much more satisfactory for London if the City of London Corporation were incorporated into the L.C.C., because it is most confusing to our overseas friends when they come to this country and they ask about the Lord Mayor and his position in London, and try to find out what is the status of the authority in County Hall just across the river. It is also most embarrassing to us, particularly to those of us who are democrats, to have to try to explain just what is this peculiar set-up for the City of London Corporation.
It is most unsatisfactory that we are being asked to give further powers to this Corporation, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. Gibson) has just said, to give these powers of acquiring land far outside its own boundaries. How does this Bill arise? At least one section of it is included because the Bill which was promoted by the London County Council—
… to prohibit the storage in that area"—
that is, the Covent Garden area—
of any combustible material, including both full and empty fruit, vegetable and flower containers, unless the buildings in which they were stored—many of them old and serious fire risks—were first brought up to an adequate standard of fire protection,
was rejected, because the Select Committee in another place rejected those proposals.
I should like to know why these proposals were rejected. Why is it that, apparently, buildings exist in Covent Garden many of which, to quote from the statement circulated by the L.C.C. about this Bill, are—
old and serious fire risks
Are we helping by passing this Bill to keep in existence old buildings which should be torn down or put into such a condition that they are no longer serious fire risks? I am very doubtful whether the Bill will help us at all to deal with what is a serious problem in Covent Garden, and I echo the views of my hon. Friend who has just spoken. It is most unsatisfactory to have the business of market control in the hands of the City of London Corporation, which is necessarily a very limited body.
We want the markets of London to be organised in such a way that they serve the consumers of the Greater London area as efficiently and effectively as possible. This House should consider a Bill which would give power to organise the markets of London in a much more satisfactory way than they are organised today. Before those proposals were brought before the House, I would suggest it would be very helpful indeed if they could be referred to a committee representing the consumers as well as the producers of horticultural produce. From that committee, we might have the benefit of some expert advice and information before we consider such an important question.
I want to ask the hon. Member who is acting for the promoters of the Bill what is the meaning of Clause 16. We have here a Clause which is rather difficult to understand on first reading, and which relates to the ecclesiastical parish of St. Botolph Without Aldgate. We are told:
For the removal of doubts it is hereby declared that any tithe rate made and levied by the Corporation as successors to the former tithe owner or by the common council as successors to the said churchwardens is recoverable by the Corporation for the common council … in the same manner as the general rate of the city is recoverable by the common council and in no other manner.
To whom does that relate and how are those powers now operated? Do we understand that no distress will be caused to certain individuals affected by the Clause, if the Bill is passed?
Because of the unsatisfactory nature of the Bill and the far-reaching powers which are to be given to the City of London Corporation, I intend to vote against the Second Reading.
The hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) complained that a Bill entitled
City of London (Various Powers)
should deal with various powers and not be, as he put it, a consistent whole. I am sure that the House will sympathise with me in my very difficult task of disentangling from a debate of an hour or more, a debate which has ranged very widely and has brought in many considerations, the points to which hon. Members would seriously wish me to reply. I say at once that I do not propose, and I am sure that no one would wish me to do so, to discuss the broad general question of the set-up of local government in the Corporation of London.
The Corporation has been called a great many things in the course of the debate. I noted a few of them—cumbrous, undemocratic, tri-cameral, the worst epithet I have heard applied for a long time, and venturesome, which I am sure will rejoice some of my friends in the City who have never before been accused of being unduly venturesome.
It is not part of my job tonight to discuss the constitution of the City of London, and I am afraid that I cannot give an undertaking that, as a result of the debate and the many words of wisdom which have fallen from so many people, the whole constitution of the Corporation of the City of London is likely to be changed, at any rate until there has been further opportunity for the House to consider it.
I will now deal with some of the points which I think are relevant to the Bill.
I speak with great diffidence, but I am an elector in the City of London and I have listened with great interest to accounts of how I am supposed to be represented. If the hon. Gentleman is now speaking on behalf of the sponsors of the Bill, who are asking for greater powers, might it not be worth while to say a word in defence of the constitution, which has been described in the course of the debate?
If the hon. Member wishes me to say a word in its defence, I will say that I think that it is doing very nicely, thank you.
I propose to refer to the granting of certain additional powers which has been the subject of several speeches. The most extraordinary alarms have been sounded about the granting, under Clause 8, of certain powers to the City Corporation to acquire land. No speaker has stressed that those are powers to acquire land for a very limited purpose and that those powers can be operated only subject to the approval of the Minister and the planning authority.
One hon. Member asked whether the planning authority would have anything to do with it. Of course, the City Corporation is most law-abiding and would not seek to override, if it could, any powers of the London County Council, the planning authority. It may be a disappointment to some hon. Members to know that the powers are being sought in the closest possible agreement with the London County Council, which is seeking similar powers for itself. The purpose of those powers is as described in the Bill, and not as some hon. Members have guessed. The purpose of the Clause is to enable the City Corporation to co-operate with other bodies and with the Ministry in attempting, as far as it can, to solve some of the problems of the markets in London.
I have been asked specific questions about whether there is any intention to provide an annexe or overflow for Billingsgate or the Borough Market or Smithfield. So far as I know, there is none. I have never heard any suggestion to that effect. However, as the Runciman Committee pointed out, the traffic congestion in Spitalfields is even greater than that at Covent Garden and it may well be that the proper thing to do will be to obtain additional storage space in order to reduce the congestion at Spitalfields, just as in the other proposals of the Bill it is intended to deal with that at Covent Garden.
I would rather not give way. I want to try to keep my head clear in spite of the efforts of so many to fog the whole position.
The hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) raised two matters. He referred to Clause 18, under which the Corporation takes powers to invest up to half its superannuation funds in equities rather than in strictly trustee stocks. In general principle, as he has pointed out, that is an entirely acceptable thing to do, and the precedents of the Manchester City Corporation and the London County Council can well be followed.
The hon. Gentleman made great play with the question of 50 per cent. or 25 per cent. There is nothing serious to be read into that. It is merely that, being venturesome, the City Corporation felt that it should have a little more freedom to invest its superannuation funds in a wide range of securities, now that the ordinary trustee list is so restricted.
There is nothing new or sinister in this. I am not in the least alarmed by all that was said about Socialism and nationalisation creeping in by the back door. If all the superannuation funds of all the local authorities were entirely invested in equities, there would be very little effect at all. It is purely a fear for which there is no ground and I assure the hon. Member for Islington, North that the Conservative City of London would not be following the Socialist London County Council and the Socialist City of Manchester Corporation if it thought that it was in any way betraying its own personal belief in private enterprise.
The hon. Member also referred to Clause 17 and to the deer enclosure. He has misrepresented the Clause and has not appreciated what is happening. He was perfectly right to say that the Corporation is under an obligation to maintain a herd of deer, in the Elizabethan words, as "an ornament to the park and for the enjoyment of the public". There are many people who like seeing deer. There are some people who do not like having deer too near to them. I assure the House that that feeling is mutual. The deer do not like the public. It is precisely because they do not like the public that the deer are being provided with an enclosure to which the public will not have access and to which the deer can retreat when they wish to do so to have a little peace and quiet. They will not be herded in or out. It will be a place to which they can retreat where the public cannot follow. If the experience of other game reserves throughout the world is followed, it may be that in a year or two there will be complaints from hon. Members that the deer do not show themselves enough.
The area to which the deer go must be outside the boundaries of the forest because it would not be proper for the City to endeavour to keep the public out of any part of the forest itself. Fortunately, the generosity of a great friend of Epping Forest, whose name I will not mention but which I think everyone knows, has made available a suitable plot of land adjoining the forest. There is nothing to complain about in this unless it be perhaps that the deer have not the sense to be as enthusiastic about the hon. Member as he seems to be about them.
Finally, Lord Mayor's Day. I would not for a moment begrudge the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) his little song of thanksgiving. He has worked very hard. I do not want to comment too much on this Clause because—and I make no bones about it—I read it with a very heavy heart. I listened with amazement to the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher). I hope that the next time he stands for Parliament in Islington he will make that speech there. He will be out on his neck. The suggestion that no one enjoys the Lord Mayor's Show is nonsense. Ask the children and the thousands of people who come to look at it.
The suggestion is that the Lord Mayor's Day is out of date. Of course it is. That is what makes it attractive. Where the hon. Member slipped in a way that I would not expect of him was that he did not read the Bill. The Bill says nothing about the Lord Mayor's Show. All this talk about the Gregorian Calendar and what happened in 1751, when I was not there and I am sure the hon. Member was not, has not the slightest relevance to the Lord Mayor's Show. The Clause alters the date on which the Lord Mayor is to take the oath and to take office. The Show is a personal arrangement made by the Lord Mayor in accordance with tradition. It has no legal validity, no legal sanction, and represents no legal obligation.
In spite of the "misery talk" about it by the hon. Member for Islington, East, I predict that there will be a Lord Mayor's Show this year, next year, and for a great many years after the hon. Member has ceased to be the Member for Islington, East. The Lord Mayor's Show is not in the Bill and the stuff that the hon. Member for Islington, East talked is quite irrelevant.
The whole justification for the Bill is the statement in the Preamble that the streets in and about the City have been congested by the ceremonies taking place on Lord Mayor's Day. If it were not for the Show there would be no point in changing Lord Mayor's Day.
That is in the Preamble, but the Bill makes no provision in regard to the Lord Mayor's Show. It makes provision for the Lord Mayor's swearing-in and taking office. I submit that there is nothing in the Clause to which anyone could take exception. If, as a result, it means that the Lord Mayor's Show, to which the hon. Member for Islington, East takes such strong objection, is held on Saturday, the hon. Member for Brixton will be delighted.
I think I have covered all the points that have been made.
The explanation is simple. If the hon. Gentleman reads the Clause carefully he will see that the collection of these tithes, which expire in 1970, another ten years' time, is invested in the Corporation. The purpose of the Clause is merely to see that the same procedure will be applied in collecting these tithes as in collecting the ordinary rates of the City of London. That is obviously desirable. The Clause is part of Part IV, which deals with the procedure for the collection of rates. The object is simply to bring the detailed rating procedure in the City of London into line with the rest of the country so that it will be easier when the Government introduce a consolidation Measure, which I believe is on the stocks, as no special provision will need to be made for the City of London. It merely brings in a uniformity of procedure which everyone can understand.
Having dealt, so far as I am able, with the many points made, I hope that the House will now be prepared to give the Bill a Second Reading.
Having listened to the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) I can only say that if the Bill does receive a Second Reading it will probably be by the votes of those who have not been present during the debate. I heard nothing in the hon. Gentleman's speech in reply to some of the points made by my hon. Friends.
The trouble about the City of London is that it was exempted from the Municipal Corporations Act, 1835, and has never been reformed in the whole of its history to bring it into line with modern practice in local government. It is regrettable that the hon. Gentleman should have made the one emphatic statement in his speech that, as far as he was concerned, it never would be reformed.
Having heard from my hon. Friends the way in which these elections are conducted, I am certain that there is no case now for exempting the City Corporation from the various reforms that have been carried out generally with regard to municipal administration. The curious thing is that in 1935, and for some years thereafter, the City of London was one of the places in which reform was very popular for everybody but itself. In the history of the nineteenth century a good many great causes of freedom were defended and exemplified by the City of London in defiance of any reform situation that it occupied.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) raised the question of Epping Forest. If there is one thing that stands to the credit of the City Corporation it is the gallant way in which, during the nineteenth century, it fought the nineteen lords of the manor of Epping Forest to secure that that great space should remain open for ever. Those of us who live in the suburbs of London know that in similar actions in the seventies and eighties, with regard to Burham Beeches, Coulsdon Common and other open spaces, the Corporation maintained access to those open spaces for the teeming population of the City of London. For that at least it deserves the gratitude of the present generation.
With regard to the rest of what the. hon. Member said, we are asked to believe that because the City of London wants something the House ought not to deny it. I believe that even in these days the City of London ought to be prepared to justify, more than the hon. Member's speech has justified, the things for which it requires powers from this House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish) has drawn attention to a particular part of the House from which my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) has spoken. I had always understood that from the point of view of the Chair all Members of the House are equal and that all Members are entitled to speak from any part of the House in which they choose to sit. I ask you, as a matter of some importance to all hon. Members, whether it is in order for an hon. Member to draw attention to the particular place from which some other hon. Member happens to have spoken.
I merely wanted to point out that some hon. Members who have not spoken in the debate would regard it as a tragedy if the Bill did not get a Second Reading, because there are certain things in the Bill which we are not allowed to discuss but which many trade unionists regard as an essential feature. [HON. MEMBERS: "How many?"] Many hundreds. If the Bill does not receive a Second Reading many people who regard their livelihoods as depending upon some of the Bill's provisions will regard it as a tragedy.
I should not like any of my hon. Friends blindly to go into the Division Lobby to vote against the Second Reading merely because of their distaste for the City of London and all it stands for. I put it to them that before they come to any judgment in the matter they should at least wait until we have heard the arguments which will be adduced later in regard to a specific Clause.
On Clause 8, is my hon. Friend telling us that the workers in Covent Garden Market—to whom I presume he referred—would like the House to pass a Bill which would enable the City Corporation to carry out its announced intention of permanently splitting the functions of Covent Garden and allocating them to two quite distinct and separate sites? Do the workers want us to support that argument?
I should like to develop that point, because I know the views of the Covent Garden workers, but it is not relevant to Clause 8. I would argue it on Clause 9, but that would be out of order now. I appeal to those of my hon. Friends who have some doubts about the matter to vote for the Second Reading of the Bill on behalf of trade unionists whose livelihood is Covent Garden.
The hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) asked me a specific question, but it would be far better for the Bill to be given a Second Reading before I reply, for I could then develop the arguments which I wish to employ in relation to Clause 9. My hon. Friend dealt with the specific points arising on Clause 8, and I have no reason to dissent from what he said. My argument is connected with Clause 9, which Mr. Speaker asked us to leave until after the Division.
I want to point out something which operates in respect of the City of London which I do not believe operates in any other local authority—at least in London. The City Corporation is asking the House of Commons to give it additional powers. It is obviously entitled to do so, but I would draw attention to the fact that about two years ago I put down a Question regarding the administration of the City Corporation and that Question was refused upon the ground that the Minister of Housing and Local Government, as he then was, had no power to interfere in the administration of the City Corporation.
In cases involving Metropolitan borough councils successive Ministers have accepted the responsibility for answering Questions in the House, and I submit that it is setting a very dangerous precedent to say that we are not entitled to ask Questions with regard to the administration of the City of London. It would be extremely foolish of us to give excessive additional powers to a local authority whom we have no power to criticise. I make that point in the hope that if the Bill is given a Second Reading the City Corporation will have some regard to the anachronisms to which attention has been drawn.
I beg to move,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to leave out Clause 9.
Clause 9 deals with the proposal of the Corporation to use part of the site of the Cattle Market at Islington for the storage of empty boxes and boxes of produce in connection with the trade at Covent Garden Market. I cannot do better than refer to paragraphs (4) and (5) of the Preamble to the Bill, because they
I emphasise those words—
in and in the vicinity of the markets at Covent Garden and Spitalfields in the administrative county of London and of creating conditions in which such markets may be re-planned and organised it is necessary that facilities should be provided for the storage of horticultural produce and containers.
Then paragraph (5) says:
It is accordingly expedient that further powers with respect to the provision of such
facilities as aforesaid the borrowing of money and the acquisition of land therefor should be conferred upon the Corporation and that they should be authorised to use for such purposes part of the site of their Metropolitan Cattle Market at Islington.
From that paragraph it appears that the Corporation bases its case for Clause 9 upon the need to deal with the problem of Covent Garden because of traffic congestion and fire risk there. The Corporation points to those problems and says, "If we can use part of the site of the Cattle Market at Islington, we can make a contribution to solving the problem of Covent Garden Market."
Everybody would agree that there are very serious problems at Covent Garden Market, and especially the problem of traffic congestion. Anybody who has been to Covent Garden will know that during the marketing hours the congestion is almost indescribable. Not only are the roads packed with lorries and vans but even the pavements are taken up with the barrows which porters use for shifting produce from point to point. Unquestionably there is very considerable traffic congestion in and around Covent Garden, from midnight.
The congestion begins at midnight when traders are beginning to approach the market in order to get some chance of being served within a reasonable time. [Interruption.] An hon. Member shakes his head and says, "Not midnight". If it does not start at midnight, it starts very soon after and by three or four in the morning there is a buildup of traffic which goes on until seven, eight or even later. There is a very serious traffic congestion at Covent Garden and everyone agrees that we should take what action is possible to deal with it. The problem of traffic congestion has a distinct bearing on the second problem—that of fire risk—for the congestion of traffic at any time when a fire occurs prevents fire appliances getting to the fire quickly.
There is an alarming degree of fire risk at Covent Garden apart from traffic congestion. The place is packed to capacity with tens of thousands of empty containers and containers filled with produce. Although there are a few modern buildings, for the most part they are old without fire precautions facilities and without adequate space to allow of the free movement of firemen. We agree, even those of us who are opposed to Clause 9, that there is a very serious fire risk at Covent Garden and anything which can be done to reduce it should be done. There have been some very serious fires there, with grave consequences. In December, 1949, there was a terrible fire in Covent Garden in the basement of the flower market near the Opera House. It burned for two days and 580 firemen were needed to deal with it. One of those firemen lost his life and thirty-eight other firemen were overcome by fumes and smoke. It was found that the basement was packed tight from floor to ceiling with empty-boxes and it was quite impossible for the firemen to get to the seat of the fire. The smoke was dense and overwhelming and there was a complete absence of ventilation to take the smoke away There were no proper fire breaks between the boxes, nor adequate gangways to allow the movement of personnel to deal with the fire. Before they could approach the fire, the firemen had to be equipped with oxygen and breathing apparatus.
The lesson of that fire was that the packing of combustible materials in basements requires very careful fire precautions. The same lesson was learned from a more serious fire at Covent Garden in May, 1954. It was then impossible to reach the seat of the fire because of smoke and the tight packing of boxes and containers. A building collapsed and three firemen lost their lives. There was a complete lack of fire-fighting equipment and those in charge of the premises had failed to provide necessary protection and precautions. London County Council is not in a position to oblige traders to provide fire precautions. It can only impose the provisions of the London Building Acts when a new building is erected or more than 50 per cent. of a building is reconstructed. Only then can the county council enforce adequate precautions.
There was another fire, which rammed home this lesson, at Smithfield Market. The lesson for the fire authority was the same. The fire occurred in the poultry market of Smithfield, which was the property of the City Corporation. It was a bad fire in which two firemen lost their lives. Again it was found that the authority responsible, the City Corporation, had failed to provide adequate fire protection at that poultry market. One would have thought that the City Corporation would have been more alive to its duty in that respect than it was. One would have thought that before the Corporation intervened in a problem beyond its borders in respect of fire risks, it would have made its own stable clean, and dealt with exactly a parallel case at the poultry market at Smithfield and provided adequate fire precaution and prevention arrangements there.
It is necessary to speak frankly about the matter because firemen's lives are at unnecessary risk when traders fail to install adequate fire protection provisions. It is therefore necessary to talk plainly. When there are inadequate fire precautions and firemen lose their lives, we must be frank in our speech.
There are serious problems in Covent Garden which we must try to solve. The question tonight is, "Will the powers which the Corporation of the City of London seeks in Clause 9 enable the City to make a contribution towards the problem of dealing with the fire risk and the congestion of traffic at Covent Garden?" The Minister thinks that they will and that if Clause 9 is given to the Corporation and acted upon, it will be possible to some extent to deal with the Covent Garden problem. We take the contrary view. We do not agree with the Minister. We know that he is responsible to some extent and that he cannot be happy while Covent Garden remains unmodernised and while this problem exists. It is one of his responsibilities to deal with the problem, and he should deal with it thoroughly. We suggest that he will not deal with it merely by allowing the Corporation to have Clause 9.
In my view, the approval of Clause 9 and its implementation will postpone the solution of these vital problems in Covent Garden Market. The Minister is evading these serious problems and is taking a timid, small step which will postpone their solution. If the Clause is passed and the Corporation implements it as far as it can, that in itself will further complicate the problems of Covent Garden. It will make it more difficult for the Minister eventually to find a permanent solution. Further, I shall seek to prove—at least. I shall suggest to the House—that the idea of using the Cattle Market at Islington as a temporary annexe to Covent Garden will be a waste of money and time. It will delay matters and allow time to slip by whilst the central problems facing us at Covent Garden are not being dealt with.
I shall also seek to prove that, if Clause 9 is granted to the City Corporation and it begins to construct buildings at the site of the Caledonian Market, that action will obstruct the proper planning of a part of London which is in a terrible state of muddle and needs replanning and redevelopment. If the site of the Cattle Market at Islington becomes an annexe to Covent Garden, the movement of traffic in the vital area between the centre and a five-mile radius will not be diminished, but possibly increased.
The powers which Clause 9 would give to the Corporation are unnecessary, because this matter is already in the hands of the appropriate authority. The City Corporation has no locus. It has sought to intervene for its private purposes, because it wanted to exploit this Cattle Market. Clause 9 is unnecessary, because the Bill which follows this, namely, the London County Council (General Powers) Bill, gives powers to the London County Council which will enable it to solve the problems at Covent Garden on a permanent basis and not on a temporary basis, as suggested in Clause 9. The London County Council (General Powers) Bill is linked with this, and when that Bill becomes law the London County Council will have the necessary powers, with the support and approval of the Minister, to enforce a permanent solution of the problems at Covent Garden. The attempt of the City Corporation in Clause 9 will not be permanent and adequate.
A solution of the problems at Covent Garden must obviously substantially and permanently reduce the volume of goods and traffic doing into and out of Covent Garden and around it. That must be the objective of any attempt at the solution of Covent Garden's problems. Any solution which does not achieve that objective is not a solution, and will be unsatisfactory.
Further, any proper solution must be acceptable to the traders. It is no good the Minister or any local authority trying to impose a solution at Covent Garden which the traders refuse to accept and operate. They are practical businessmen and they will rightly go about their business in their own way. They will avoid and circumvent any scheme which they do not accept. Any proper solution to Covent Garden's problems must reduce the traffic in the area and must also be acceptable to the traders, for without their co-operation it cannot work.
The proposal in Clause 9 is not permanent. As hon. Members will see from the terms of the Clause, it is limited in duration to five years. Despite any attempts behind the scenes—and there has been a lot of movement behind the scenes in the history of this Bill and of the London County Council Bill—we may be certain that the limitation to five years will be insisted upon.
The proposed solution of the Covent Garden problem in Clause 9 is not, therefore, a permanent one. It cannot last longer than five years and it may be even shorter. Nobody suggests that this is a permanent solution. The City Corporation does not suggest that it is. The London County Council does not in any sense say that it is permanent.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, who puts it positively. The London County Council says definitely that this proposal by the City Corporation in Clause 9 is not a permanent solution. The Minister knows this. Far from its being permanent, it is likely to delay the coming into operation of a permanent solution.
The proposals in Clause 9 are not acceptable to the traders. One of the vital tests of any proffered solution is that the traders must be ready to accept it and to work it. The traders, however—they are businessmen—have turned this down and say, quite rightly, that they will have nothing to do with any scheme that is on a temporary basis. These hard-headed businessmen, who have built up a great centre of horticultural trade at Covent Garden, have rejected the solution embodied in Clause 9 and will not work it. They want a permanent solution.
I suggest that if Clause 9 becomes law and the City Corporation gets this power, we will have a period of complete stagnation. We would be holding up the permanent solution by allowing the Corporation to have the Clause. When the Bill finally goes through and the Corporation has Clause 9 and the powers therein, the Minister will say, "That is that. That is out of the way. Now, we are on the way to a solution." He will turn his attention to other problems in his Department. He will not pursue with determination the search for a permanent site or solution. The very introduction of a temporary solution to a matter which has to be dealt with postpones one's efforts to find a permanent solution. The Minister is evading the problems in Covent Garden and has jumped at the offer by the City Corporation as a possible, immediate amelioration of his problem. He knows—everybody knows—that it is not a permanent solution. If it goes through, it will hinder the Ministry of Agriculture in their attempts to find a permanent site.
What will the London County Council do if this Clause goes through? Will the fact that the Corporation has power to act, to erect sheds and to take things from Covent Garden stimulate the London County Council to hunt for a permanent solution? It is most unlikely. We are all aware of the inertia in most men, and that if someone says, "It is all right; we have partly solved this problem", people say at once, "I need not trouble so much about finding a proper solution." Inevitably the London County Council will tend to slacken in its efforts to find a permanent site if the City Corporation is given powers to apply some temporary solution.
The City Corporation, of course, will not trouble very much about finding a permanent solution once it has got Clause 9. It will be busy at the cattle market putting up buildings, and, no doubt, making a very good show of it, for it is a powerful authority and has immense resources. It will certainly not get into a "flap" about the matter and say, "We must not be content with this temporary arrangement." It is obvious that as soon as the City Corporation gets the powers embodied in Clause 9, it will put aside any preoccupation it ever had with attempting to find a permanent solution to the Covent Garden problem. We may be sure that if Clause 9 stands and the cattle market is used as a temporary annex the permanent solution of the fire and traffic problems will be pushed further away. To use the cattle market at Islington temporarily will not solve the Covent Garden problem but will tend to delay its solution.
This is a complicated matter. There are two Bills. Two authorities and the Covent Garden Traders Association are all involved. There are cross-petitions between the two local authorities. There are petitions in another place from the market traders, and now there is another petition to a Committee of this House. There has been a lot of consultation behind the scenes, as the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) is aware.
We know that Covent Garden is a fascinating place, and we should be sorry to lose it. It has character and there are some odd people there who are interesting to meet. It is a part of old London and it has a great fascination for Londoners. It has grown up over generations. It is the result of the effort of hundreds of thousands of people, and the consequence of that individual effort is the present complete muddle. We cannot move. A person cannot get his goods out, the traffic is congested and the danger of fire is very great. All this is the result of unplanned private initiative, each person, quite rightly, intent upon his own purpose.
Covent Garden has great merit and fascination. It is the centre of a great business network for consumers throughout the country, but it is frightfully complicated and has brought grave social problems which the Minister must solve. If something permanent is not done, traffic will come to a standstill and firemen will run unnecessary risks. The time comes in such a growth when individual initiative is not enough. We cannot leave the matter to individual ambition and purpose. It is necessary to plan and for order to be imposed upon the muddle of individual effort.
In that complicated situation, if Clause 9 is passed I think that it will add to the complications. A secondary argument will arise as to whether the cattle market annexe at Islington should be permanent or temporary. Attempts will be made to persuade the London County Council to agree to that annexe being used for bulk produce. If Clause 9 is accepted, the whole problem of Covent Garden will be further complicated. I suggest that it would be a mistake to add to that complicated problem.
The duty of the Minister is plain: he must find a permanent solution. I believe that he has already appointed some of his officers to act jointly with officers of the London County Council in an intensive search for a permanent site for the annexe for the overflow from Covent Garden. I understand that that intensive search has been set afoot. Presumably it is backed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, although generally in this matter it has not been forthcoming. This is surprising, because basically the question whether the cattle market should be used or not is a planning matter. I cannot believe that the joint effort of the Ministry and the L.C.C. will not find within a reasonable time a site for a permanent annexe to Covent Garden which traders would accept and which would be a permanent solution to the problems which must be solved.
If the temporary effort by the City Corporation to find a measure of solution to the problem of Covent Garden is made, it will necessitate expenditure which will be largely wasted. Although the City Corporation may have more money than it should by right possess, and although its rateable income must be exceedingly high, that is no reason why it should waste money. Wasting money means wasting effort and labour. There will be a considerable waste of time and money if the Corporation goes ahead with its plans outlined in Clause 9 in respect of Islington Cattle Market, because in a year's time the permanent site may be found.
Would any businessman countenance the laying down of his capital reserves on something which he knew would last only a short time and when he knew that if he waited that short time he would be able to apply his resources to something permanent? I cannot imagine a businessman entertaining any such proposal as that of the City Corporation. Perhaps the Minister does not mind if the Corporation spends its money, but we ought to be aware that there is the overriding consideration that a waste of effort inflicts wastage on the whole country; and, although the loss may be that of the City Corporation, it is nevertheless something to be deplored and avoided if possible.
The buildings which are to be put up will be costly. I know that it has been said, quite plausibly, that they can be put up quickly and also taken down quickly when the permanent site is found. That is what we have been told, but it really is not a sensible suggestion to make to anyone who knows how these things go on. If the City Corporation provides the annexe at Islington it will not be content with Dutch barns. There will have to be an office for the staff. There will have to be permanent or semi-permanent buildings. It is certain that a considerable amount of money will be laid out on the cattle market, and it will all be unnecessary as soon as the permanent site is found. I understand that it is the intention of the London County Council to find the permanent site as quickly as possible. Therefore, on the face of it, it is a foolish thing to do.
Yes, what my hon. Friend says is true. It is only recently that the London County Council has been in a position to search for a permanent site. It was only on 21st April that the Ministry supplied the necessary statistical information to the London County Council to put it in the position of making an intelligent and purposeful search for the permanent site.
I see the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster shaking his head. I invite him to correct me if I am wrong. I say categorically—the Minister can correct me if I am wrong—that it was only upon 21st April last that the necessary information and figures were supplied by the Ministry to the London County Council so that it could know what kind of site was required, what accommodation was needed, and so forth.
It would be much better if we could delete Clause 9, cut out this temporary expedient, and find a permanent site and do the job properly. The use of the cattle market at Islington as an annexe to Covent Garden Market will, in the view of many people in that borough, obstruct and deny the redevelopment of a really awful part of London. I say awful in the sense that the buildings are awful. As to the electorate, I would not for a moment at this time say that they were awful, but it is certainly a part of London that requires to be redeveloped as soon as possible.
It is a sizeable site. There are about 44 acres altogether, including the slaughterhouse. In case anybody suggests that this site is suitable only for trade, commerce or business, because of the presence of the slaughterhouse nearby, I should like to mention the present position regarding the slaughterhouse. It is at the end of its life. It belongs to the City Corporation, which has allowed it to become out of date and inadequate. It will have to be completely rebuilt and modernised, and that is known and agreed. The hon. Member who represents the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) knows that it is so, and the Minister also knows that it is so. Indeed, under recent regulations issued by the Ministry of Agriculture about the improvement of slaughterhouses, that in Islington will have to be dealt with before very long because of its antiquity. It is still there, and it ought to go. It ought to be cleared out and the site fully redeveloped.
It is appalling to think that along the streets in this part of London one can see cattle being moved, while all the traffic is held up. There are cries and shouts from the drovers, with dogs chasing around, and omnibuses and cars held up while sheep and bullocks walk on the pavement. This happens within five miles of this House. Of course, this business of bringing cattle into London and driving them through the streets to be slaughtered belongs to the nineteenth century. It is completely outmoded, and it will have to go. The filth that is left behind is indescribable, and on grounds of hygiene alone this state of affairs should be ended very quickly.
The slaughterhouse will have to be permanently resited and certainly will
have to be rebuilt and modernised before very long. If it was out of the way we could have a site of 44 acres in Islington which could be adequately redeveloped. I must remind the House that the City Corporation, with the support of the Minister, and through the provisions of Clause 9 of the Bill, is seeking to prevent the redevelopment of this blighted area, which is what it is. I think that I cannot do better in this respect than quote the words of the planning officer of the London County Council when he gave evidence before the Committee on the Bill in another place. He said:
It is vital that the County Council should retain planning control over the future use of the Cattle Market.
To some extent, this may impinge upon the Bill which is to follow. I think that it is agreed that the Bill which we are now discussing and the L.C.C. General Powers Bill, which we shall be discussing next, are interlocked, and have to be considered jointly on certain points.
He went on:
The Council attaches the greatest importance to its proper replanning.
That is the whole area, including the area on which the abattoir now stands. He went on:
The replanning of the Islington area is just as important as the replanning of Covent Garden.
Hon. Members probably did not think that that was so. Covent Garden is the centre of a thriving and wealthy trade where a great deal of money is made and where wealthy firms have their premises, whereas Islington is a borough where there are "slummy" parts which should be swept away. But I impress upon the House that it is the considered opinion of the planning officer of London that the redevelopment of the cattle market in the Islington area is as important as the redevelopment at Covent Garden.
He went on:
I think it should be realised that the acceptance by the County Council as planning authority to use some 6 acres of the Cattle Market site for a use that is not their ultimate use is one which seriously perturbs the Planning Authority.
The potential changes that can take place in Islington concern over 48 acres of a most blighted part of London, or rather a most disgraceful part of London under modern requirements.
If Clause 9 is passed, this blighted and
disgraceful part of London will continue to be blighted and disgraceful. The planning officer went on—
On a point of order. The document being quoted in extenso is not before the House. May we have that document, or a cessation of this recital at great length of a document which is not before the House?
I have not myself seen the document. It seems to me that it is very difficult to separate the powers which are proposed to be taken in the County Council Bill from those which are proposed to be taken in the City of London Bill. They all make part of the one scheme, and although I hope that there will be no repetition when we come to the County Council Bill, I think that for the purposes of explaining objections to the City of London Bill the hon. Member is in order.
The planning officer went on to say:
Islington is the second lowest efficiency area of London for open space. Islington is short of 400 acres of open space.
This blighted area is crying out for open space and slum clearance. The social consequences, the bad habits and antisocial actions, and so on, that flow from a slum area like this are difficult to calculate. The report adds:
It is the Council's desire that at the very earliest date 18 acres of this area will be brought over into open space.
That is the intention of the planning authority—
The housing position is so severe that in a comprehensive piece of planning here over
1,650 people can be rehoused. At the same time the educational needs are to provide requirements for 2,000 places on the Caledonian Market site. In allowing a temporary use of this site for empty containers, the Council realise immediately they are prejudicing and setting back other major responsibilities which lie on their shoulders.
The report concludes with these words:
If this area becomes one which is also used for full produce"—
and I hope the Minister will hearken to these words—
it will in itself cause greater difficulties than only limiting it to the empty containers.
If Clause 9 becomes law the replannig of this blighted area will be seriously delayed. I do not want to detain the House unnecessarily, but there are one or two vital matters to be considered. Hon. Members may laugh, but if they came to my "surgery" and listened to some of the awful cases, they would realise that the redevelopment of this area is essential. We know enough about child delinquency and young men getting out of order. If social conditions remain as they are we are inviting this kind of social disturbance. This is a serious matter which should be properly considered and not one about which we should be light-hearted.
This site which the City Corporation is seeking to take for a temporary period for produce at Covent Garden covers about 9 acres. It has been left derelict for fourteen years. One finds willow herb and dandelions growing there. It is like a piece of open country. There are two housing authorities in the area and despite their efforts to get the City Corporation to agree that at least part of the site should be used for social purposes their applications have been refused and the land has been left derelict.
Furthermore, a number of surrounding houses, which are the property of the City Corporation, have been allowed to deteriorate to the point of being unfit for human habitation. I believe that the Corporation has allowed this as a matter of policy, because it hopes that it may be able to make the cattle market in Islington a horticultural sub-market of Covent Garden. It was not until the Runciman Committee reported, and the Corporation saw its chance to exploit this area commercially, that it agreed that it could be used. Up till then it had refused to allow it to be used.
Having looked at this site carefully and studied the approaches to it, and the network of roads between the cattle market and Covent Garden, it is my considered opinion that if the cattle market comes into use as an annexe to Covent Garden the flow of traffic between it and Covent Garden will be increased rather than diminished. Traders will be told, "You must take your empties to the cattle market, where you will find the warehouse. Your apples, oranges and bananas will be at Covent Garden Market." Having proceeded to the annexe at Islington to unload their empties, traders will have to proceed from there to Covent Garden proper to obtain their produce.
If they are approaching from the north the amount of travelling they will have to do will not be increased, but if they come in from the east, west or south of London they will have to pass through the Covent Garden area and beyond it in order to reach the annexe and unload their empties, after which they will turn back once again to Covent Garden. Those traders will have a greater mileage to cover in the inner five-mile area of London than they now have, when using only Covent Garden. It has not been proved that the use of Islington Cattle Market as an annexe will diminish the traffic congestion at Covent Garden.
The permanent solution of the problems of Covent Garden Market can be found by the appropriate authority to handle the matter, the London County Council. It is, therefore, quite unnecessary for the City Corporation to take the powers which it seeks under Clause 9. The London County Council is the fire authority and the planning authority, and it can work closely with the police authorities in the Metropolitan area on traffic problems. It has wide experience of the Metropolitan area and it should be able before long to find a permanent site so that the Minister's problem is solved permanently.
Indeed, I would go so far as to say that if the City Corporation had not come forward with this bright idea a permanent site would have been found by now. The intervention of the City Corporation with a temporary solution has delayed the finding of that site. If the City Corporation had not intervened, the London County Council would have found a permanent site and the work would be done.
I mentioned earlier that a joint committee of the Ministry and the planning authority of the London County Council had been set up and that an extensive search for a permanent site was going on. The Ministry of Agriculture has within recent weeks provided the planning authority with the necessary detailed information about the requirements for a permanent site and that joint committee should be able to find a solution to the Minister's problem. I hope that the appropriate authority will be allowed to do this. I hope that the Minister will do all that he can, whatever the fate of this Clause, to support the planning authority of London in its efforts to find a permanent site.
I beg to Second the Motion.
Although some hon. Members may think that this question is not important, it is of very great significance to the people who live in the borough of Islington. I am intervening in this discussion because I am a resident in that borough. Until a few weeks ago, I was a member of that worthy and progressive body, the borough council, and I know that there is a great deal of feeling in the borough about the proposal that the Metropolitan Cattle Market should be turned into a sub-depot for the Covent Garden Market. There is a great deal of feeling about it in Islington. I ask hon. Members to bear in mind that when they are considering the transfer of storage space from Covent Garden to Islington they should also consider the feelings of the people living in the borough.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) on his very fine speech. He covered most of the points, but I disagree with two things he said. First, Islington is not a slum. Parts of it are deplorable and the borough council is doing its best to improve them. But there are other parts which the council has helped to improve, and there are now in Islington as attractive centres of recreation as anyone could wish to have. By accepting this Clause we shall be impeding the work of the borough council and its attempts to improve the amenities of Islington. We must give the council an opportunity of gaining access to further sites in the borough and developing them as open spaces.
This Bill is the result of an impasse The London County Council originally introduced a Bill which would have prohibited the storage in the Covent Garden area of any combustible material because the buildings in which it would be stored were old and presented a serious fire risk. Because that Bill was not passed, owing to the objections of the Select Committee in another place, we now have this Clause before us. I suggest that it would be much more satisfactory if the London County Council pursued other methods to achieve its objective of improving the position at Covent Garden Market rather than by introducing this Clause into this Bill.
This operation will be carried out at the expense of the citizens of Islington. They are paying the price for the transfer of the storage space from Covent Garden to their borough, and it is a serious price. There are alternative uses for which the site could be used. As the L.C.C. pointed out in its own statement, it has considered that the site of the Metropolitan Cattle Market should be developed either as an open space or for housing or for educational purposes. The Council admits in its own memorandum that the borough of Islington has the greatest open space deficiency of any borough in the County of London, that is, 0·29 acres for 1,000 of the population, compared with the Council's interim standard of 2½ acres per 1,000 and its ultimate objective of 4 acres per 1,000. Here is an opportunity to make a site available for an open space for recreational purposes. Yet that opportunity is being thrown away because those people who are responsible, both in the London County Council and elsewhere, have given insufficient thought and energy to the development of alternative sites as storage space for the Covent Garden market. As a result, the people in Islington have to pay the price.
The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) said earlier that the City of London Corporation is a law-abiding body. I wish to ask why the City of London and the London County Council have to enter into a complicated agreement on this whole question. Not only was the agreement complicated, but apparently it took several weeks to arrive at it. Both the authorities, we understand, engaged in the curious charade of cross-petitioning each other's Bills in order to preserve their positions. If the City of London Corporation is so anxious to follow the advice of the planning authority, why was it necessary to have this curious business of cross-petitioning and the statement circulated by the L.C.C.?
What has been done to consult the people who are directly interested in this development? What has been done to secure the agreement of the Islington Borough Council which represents the people of Islington who are directly affected?
There are alternative uses for this site. One is housing. Hon. Members have pointed out that the housing situation in Islington is serious. There were 16,000 people on the waiting list there, but the borough council had to scrap the list because it saw no possibility in the foreseeable future of being able to offer housing accommodation. I was on the borough council at the time and I had the experience of seeing the council tear up the chances and dash the hopes of those 16,000 people because there were so few sites in the borough available for housing. Here is a site available, yet it is to be allocated under the Bill for private storage space for Covent Garden Market.
Another use to which the site could be put is for an open space. The Borough Council of Islington has done an excellent job in improving the open space position, yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has pointed out, the area is blighted and it desperately needs more space as a breathing lung. It will certainly not be in the interests of the people of the area if the cattle market is turned into a storage centre.
Another requirement in the area—I could quote from a statement circulated by the London County Council—is a site for a new secondary school. I would like to hear from hon. Members who speak on behalf of the London County Council what other facilities they are making available for the development of this school, which will soon be urgently needed by the children in this locality. A further aspect of the Clause is the increase of expense and inconvenience which will be caused if the site is used for storage. Not only will this arrangement increase the cost to people who use Covent Garden Market but it will result in an increase in the price of horticultural produce.
This is a compromise proposal which does not consider the real interests of the consumer or the effective utilisation of Covent Garden Market for horticultural produce. It will be much better if the Clause is completely withdrawn and further thought is given to the development of sites on the outskirts of London for the distribution of horticultural produce, rather than congest the streets of London with market lorries which, if the Clause is passed, will come into the centre of London and then go out to Islington with their containers. It will definitely be in the interests of consumers generally that the Clause be deleted.
I have some sympathy with this Instruction, at least until we have a little more information on the provisions of the Bill. I am grateful for the indication which Mr. Speaker gave before he left the Chair that we might be fairly liberal in reading this Bill and the London County Council Bill together, because in respect of Clause 9 and the particular proposal in relation to Covent Garden the two Bills are almost inseparable. I hope, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I may have your indulgence in that respect.
At first sight, one has cause to be grateful to any authority which puts forward any plan to relieve the situation at Covent Garden. I certainly wish to acknowledge what clearly is an effort by both authorities to that end. It is now two and a half years since Lord Runciman's Committee reported at great length, but we must admit that there has been no physical diminution of the worst evils at Covent Garden. In terms of traffic and the way in which business is conducted, conditions are worse than when that Committee reported. I can think of no parallel in any city with thirty acres of this kind so ill-suited to the task it has to perform.
The Runciman Committee was mainly concerned with traffic congestion and the desirability of improving facilities from the point of view of efficiency of trading. Its recommendations were designed to relieve those conditions. My impression, which is supported by what was said earlier by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), is that Clause 9, taken in conjunction with the London County Council's provision, has a rather different motive and therefore needs different consideration.
I think I have the support of the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) when I say that fire is the main concern and that traffic congestion is a secondary consideration. I support all that hon. Member said about fire risks I have no doubt that the nature of these buildings, their contents and the storage of highly inflammable material provide a great fire risk, although I can think of other places where it is not much less. We have to decide tonight whether the main risk is fire or a total paralysis of traffic in the area. The same solution does not necessarily meet the two dangers.
The first thing to say about Clause 9 is that it bears no relation to any of the recommendations of Lord Runciman's Committee. Lord Runciman offered a number of possibilities. The first was to resite Covent Garden; that is not proposed. Another was to rebuild on the present site; that is not proposed. There might be general improvements on the present site, or, fourth, the volume of business might be reduced to what the market can handle. The Committee went on to mention a fifth course, adding:
but this can hardly be recommended. It is to allow the traffic in and around the market to continue to increase without restriction in the not unreasonable expectation that this will begin to strangle the market and force trade and traders to move elsewhere.
One anxiety I have about this plan is that it might have just that outcome—that it will not relieve, but tend to exacerbate the traffic conditions which were the main concern of the Runciman Committee, but, for reasons we all appreciate, not of the London County Council.
The second thing to which we have to draw attention is that the long Title of the City of London Bill refers to conferring powers
upon the Corporation of London with respect to the provision of storage facilities for horticultural produce and containers the acquisition of land
and so forth. That might lead us to suppose that provisions in this Bill would enable the traders of Covent Garden to store their surplus containers and horticultural produce in the market buildings which we discussed earlier. On this I seek some assurance from my hon. Friend, because I understand that this may not be so. I believe that in the understanding reached between the Corporation with this Bill and the L.C.C. with its Bill, that is not the position at all, despite what is said in the long Title.
Many have advocated, and I would certainly support—and I am not sure that I should be supporting this Instruction in these circumstances—the permanent provision of storage facilities elsewhere, for both bulk produce and empty containers. I can see some point in trying to relieve the traffic congestion at Covent Garden with an manoeuvre of that sort. For reasons about which I am not clear, however, no bulk produce, with certain exceptions, is to be allowed in the Caledonian Market, which is to be kept for empty containers. I am puzzled why this is so. If it is suitable for containers, why not for produce? Containers must be at least as inflammable as produce, if not more inflammable. I see no convincing explanation of this decision.
Such evidence as I have seen from the Covent Garden Tenants' Association strikes me as very convincing, and I think that both they and the Minister of Agriculture would like the new Caledonian Market site to be used as far as possible for bulk storage as well as for empty containers. For very good reasons, I should entirely support them. I therefore cannot understand this plan which, notwithstanding the long Title of the Bill, will not do what the House may be led to suppose.
Furthermore, there is to be a restriction not only in the use and purpose of Covent Garden but also in time. I will not waste the time of the House in discussing that, because it has already been mentioned, but the powers under the Clause are to last for only five years, and one point which the Runciman Committee made was that any change made at Covent Garden must give the traders there the chance of a reasonably settled future. It is pointless to uproot Covent Garden Market or to disrupt the present routine of the market and to expect people to accept it for a short time. The Committee felt that any tinkering with the problem would not encourage cooperation, and I think that the Committee was absolutely right.
Not the least of my anxieties about this joint plan of the Corporation and the London County Council is that it does not seem likely to obtain the cooperation of those it is designed to affect. A large number of the principal interests involved in Covent Garden have petitioned against the Bill. It may be possible to resolve their doubts and to bring them wholeheartedly into the scheme, but in my opinion no plan for Covent Garden has a chance of success and of improving the present situation unless those involved feel that it is in their interests to make it work. That is a prerequisite to any scheme. It does not matter what the Corporation of the City of London or the London County Council lays down; if the traders of Covent Garden do not want the plan to work, I am very doubtful whether it will work. Nor do I blame them. I should probably feel the same way. These two bodies have gone to immense trouble to produce the Bill and to work out the plan, but I wonder how far they have gone in trying to enlist the assistance of the traders.
I do not know how effectively one can assert, as did the hon. Member for Islington, South-West, that the plan will increase motor traffic congestion. I do not see how it will reduce it. I do not see how the plan can relieve the amount of motor traffic which requires to enter and leave the Covent Garden area. It is possible that the large amount of transport will not be reduced but increased and that the atrophy with which Covent Garden Market afflicts the traffic area nearby will be spread.
Finally, my main objection is that it is possible that the Bill will lead to further delay in remedial action to what has become, in terms of the whole capital, rather a scandal. I am not suggesting that anybody has been dilatory. No doubt there are great difficulties. The Runciman Committee urged a definite pronouncement on the future of this market. That was urged two and
a half years ago. A year ago my right hon. Friend promised legislation making statutory a Covent Garden market authority, without which nothing will move very fast. He went on:
The Government have decided that the first step, in order to concentrate Covent Garden Market and to reduce traffic congestion, should be the provision elsewhere of storage premises."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th June, 1958; Vol. 589, c. 212.]
In that statement my right hon. Friend gave the House very definitely to understand that this alternative accommodation would include, not only empty containers, but produce. In view of what I said earlier, at this juncture that point needs raising and explaining.
There could hardly be a worse introduction to the establishment of a market authority than a plan, or what some might regard as a half plan, which will exasperate the interests of those who feel they are principally concerned, or a plan in which many of them have not the faith which they should have.
The final quotation I should like to make is from paragraph 199 of the Runciman Committee's Report, which after all is the main plan on this. It took a long time to produce the Report. It says:
We consider that there is still plenty of scope for worthwhile improvements to be effected at Covent Garden, but little prospect that anything can be done unless the owners of the market, market traders, the Union, the police, and the local authorities work in cooperation with each other. Representatives of these interests should be called together to consider what improvements can be made and how carried into effect.
Naturally it is disquieting to find that a very large number of the interests involved—I do not say all—are opposing Clause 9. I hope that it will not lead the market authority, as I believe it might, to have the worst of two worlds. It will not have a clear field in which to do what it thinks fit, because this temporary plan, as one must call it, will be started. It will be faced with this plan lasting until 1965, say—that is the five-year period—which might be contrary to its own ideas. It could lead to nothing permanently effective being done on this problem, which has lasted almost as long as any in our history.
I advise my hon. Friend that he has to decide whether to back what is proving a very long-term but which may be a successful and sound plan, or to indulge in what I must regard at the moment as a diversion, which might at a later stage embarrass the main plan.
For that reason I support the Instruction until we receive further assurances.
We have had much discussion and a good many arguments already. I hope that I shall be able to put the case I wish to put without taking anything like as much time. The speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes)—I had no idea that he was going to make it—and the speech of the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans) seemed to me to be founded on the argument that this plan, part of which is embodied in Clause 9 and the remainder of which is embodied in the L.C.C. Bill, did not afford any permanent solution of the Covent Garden problem. No one has ever suggested that it did, no one ever intended that it should, and no one ever thought that it possibly could.
I must tell very briefly the story of how the plan came into existence in order that I may refute the suggestion which may have been made that it is an intervention by the City Corporation into a matter in which, as one hon. Member said—I entirely agree with him—the City has no standing and where it has no direct concern.
What is the history of this plan? The Covent Garden problem is extremely complicated, nearly as complicated as the speeches in which the Motion has been moved. It has been a problem of London, to my knowledge, for 35 years. I remember it when I first became a member of the London County Council. Throughout the whole of that time, one authority after another and one inquiry after another has examined the problem and tried to find a solution. As to the difficulties of the position, no one has any doubt.
The last attempt was the Runciman Committee. That Committee made recommendations for what it believed might be a long-term solution of the problems of traffic congestion, fire, efficient management, and so on, at Covent Garden. The Committee also recognised that a permanent solution of that kind must take a very long time to work out, and it suggested that there were certain problems that were of such an urgent character that immediate steps should, if possible, be taken to deal with them pending the completion of the long-term solution.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashford has referred to the statement made by the Minister on 11th July, 1958, when he commended the Runciman Report to the House. The Runciman Committee accepted the view that there should be improvements in the market in the interests of greater efficiency, smoother traffic flow and reduction of fire risk. The Minister went on to say that the Committee decided that the first step should be, as my hon. Friend has said, to endeavour to find additional storage space which could be used for the purpose of storage of empties and, to an extent, of storage of bulk goods not required in the market but which could be sold by sample.
The Minister said that it was the Government's intention to try to find that accommodation. The Government have been trying for well over a year to find it. The London County Council has been trying to find it. All sorts of people have been trying to find the alternative site, but whatever their efforts may have been that site has not yet been found. A number of sites have been considered. Two or three are still under consideration.
In the course of that search for an alternative site, which, it was hoped, might be a permanent one, either the Ministry, the London County Council or someone else concerned with the site—certainly it was not the City's suggestion; where it came from I do not quite know—cast eyes upon the site of the Caledonian Market and the suggestion was made that it might well provide the accommodation required to deal with the urgent problems of traffic and fire risk as a temporary measure pending the development of a proper scheme with a permanent site.
For that purpose, the Islington site had several obvious advantages. It was in hand. It was cleared. It was unoccupied. It was of adequate size and it was, broadly speaking, in a satisfactory position. Those all mounted up to the fact that it was a site which could be got into operation in the course of two or three months from the time the power was given to the City Corporation to use it in that way. There were obvious arguments against the Islington site. I do not for one moment quarrel with the arguments advanced by hon. Members representing Islington constituencies. Islington certainly badly needs housing space. It badly needs open space.
I am quite certain that any proposal to use this site permanently for market purposes would have met with resistance not only in Islington but certainly from the London County Council as planning authority, and from a great many others who would feel that that was a wrong permanent use of this land. But that is why, when the London County Council, as the planning authority, considered this proposal it said that it must be for a limited number of years, and, by agreement with the City Corporation, which I repeat has no direct responsibility in this matter, it was decided that a limit of five years should be put on the use of the site. Similarly, it was felt desirable that there should be some limit of its use for filled cases lest there might be a development of a complete secondary market associated with Covent Garden but not complementary to it.
This plan to make temporary use of a highly desirable site for a very necessary purpose had the complete and unanimous approval of the London County Council. There is no party question here. It naturally has the approval of the City Corporation and it has the full approval of the Minister who has already expressed that approval publicly and, I am sure, is prepared to repeat it tonight in this House. It is approved by everybody.
What is the other argument that has been used against this plan? The hon. Member for Islington, South-West is certainly the first person whom I have heard in any quarter who has suggested that it would make matters worse. I am afraid my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford who has taken the same point that it would increase the traffic, has done so without studying the operations of the market. All the market operators, although there are admittedly some things in the London County Council Bill in relation to licensing which they do not like, feel that to get the empties away from Covent Garden will vastly improve the traffic conditions. It is not a question of the volume of traffic that goes into or comes out of the market. The trouble is the volume of traffic that gets jammed in the market because the filled lorries cannot be unloaded through the pile of empties. It is the traffic which is held steady, which cannot get out of the market, and is frozen in the market, which causes the traffic jams. So long as the volume flows in and out there is no traffic jam.
The other point is the question of fire risk. The hon. Member for Islington, South-West, in the first quarter of an hour of his speech, made a most conclusive case for the plan when he painted clearly, vividly and without any exaggeration the grave fire risk which arises from this accumulation of empties in the Covent Garden market. There is no question about that risk. If the empty cases can be got away the fire risk is diminished and no one has contradicted that.
I sum up by saying that this is not intended to be a permanent solution of the Govent Garden problem. It is intended to be a contribution for a short period to the solution of the problems by dealing with two of the most urgent difficulties in the market. It will also have the effect of making working conditions in the market better, but it claims to produce those results for a limited time. It is not a plan which can in the nature of it preclude the use of that site for housing and open spaces when Islington is ready to use it. I am certain that hon. Members who represent Islington will be the first to agree with me that until something is done about the abattoir the site is not ideal as a building site, but it will be one day and this plan will do nothing to stop it.
The plan is intended as a stopgap to alleviate the conditions at Covent Garden Market. It has the complete approval of the London County Council as planning authority, of the City Corporation, of the Minister and of the authority in Islington which petitioned against the Bill in Committee in another place but has not petitioned against it in this House. I do not want to draw any deductions from that, to assume anything in relation to it or to comment upon it. I merely state it as a fact, and I do not wish to draw any conclusions from the fact. This is a plan which we believe is of value, which we believe is feasible, which can be quickly operated and which has the united support of all the local authorities concerned.
I said previously that I would rise at some stage to indicate the Government's view on this Clause. At this late hour I propose to speak only briefly, as I am sure hon. Members would wish to make clear where we stand.
The crying need to reduce traffic congestion in Covent Garden has already been emphasised a great deal and I am sure it needs no further emphasis from me, but the facts stated, even by the hon. Member for Islington, South-West (Mr. A. Evans), I think make it abundantly clear that something drastic must be done before long in order to deal with this problem. The hon. Member rightly drew attention to the other problem of fire risk. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the fair way in which he brought both points clearly to the notice of the House. Both are absolutely vital to a consideration of this problem. I am sure that hon. Members in all parts of the House will take careful and particular note of the appalling fire risk problems and the concern of the London County Council, very rightly, to tackle them.
I must say a word about the permanency or otherwise of this site. It is my right hon. Friend's hope and intention that a site for a permanent annexe to Govent Garden Market will be found in the fairly near future, but, as the House will appreciate, it is not easy to find in the centre of London a site sufficiently large and otherwise suitable which has not been already earmarked for other purposes. It is for this reason that my right hon. Friend gladly accepted the opportunity of availing himself for a temporary period only of the Caledonian Market site. It should be quite clear, however, that we look on this strictly as a temporary site, and I would remind the House of the provision in Clause 9 (3) which limits the powers in regard to this Clause to a period of five years.
The House tonight is being asked only to confirm the right to use this site as a market for five years. This could not be extended without the opportunity for further consideration of the matter by the House itself. I maintain that this is an important safeguard for those hon. Members who wish to see this site developed—
Would the hon. Gentleman say whether he accepts the limitation that the site should be used only for storing empty containers, as was agreed by the local authorities?
Certainly not. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that no Government could give an undertaking of that sort. What I am saying—I made it perfectly clear—is that before any further extension could be made the House would have to be consulted. That was all I was saying, and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman heard me say it perfectly well.
This is an important safeguard, but I reiterate that we are pushing ahead with every possible endeavour to obtain a permanent site. My Ministry and the other Ministries concerned, together with the planning authority, are keeping closely in touch on this.
I want to take up a point made by one hon. Member. He made particular reference to some document of 21st April this year. There was no substance in that. The L.C.C., like my Ministry, has been urgently looking for sites for a great deal longer period. The L.C.C. was merely given some additional information on that date.
I would remind the hon. Gentleman that it is on the record that the necessary information to enable the planning authority to make a search was received from the Ministry only some time in April this year.
That matter related to quantities of boxes. It was a point of some substance perhaps, but the L.C.C. had ample information before and was searching before. I assure the House that it is wrong to attach particular importance to that incident. The fact is that the search has been going on.
What I am trying to inform the House is that two possible sites have recently been selected for further consideration. Both sites present definite possibilities, and one of them could probably be acquired and developed fairly quickly. I am afraid, however, that the position has not yet developed sufficiently for us to be able to clinch the matter, and it is because of this that we attach such importance to obtain the right for a temporary period to use the Caledonian Market site. It is possible that our plans might go ahead quicker than we expect, in which case we might be able to go straight to the permanent site without using the Islington site at all, but it would be most imprudent for us to count on this, and if we are to ensure making progress with our plans for Covent Garden we feel it imperative to have this site available to us, if only as an insurance.
I would remind the House that all the time congestion at Covent Garden grows worse and we really cannot afford to risk any further delay in our plans for Covent Garden itself. That applies to the fire risk as well.
As regards the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), I would remind him that when the Bills were in another place my right hon. Friend submitted a report in which he stated that if the agreement were implemented fulfilment of an important part of the Government's plans for relief of congestion in the market area would be prejudiced. He urged that the London County Council and the City Corporation should reconsider the terms of the agreement with a view to allowing the facilities at Islington to be used temporarily for the storage of produce from Covent Garden as well as for the storage of empty containers. The Committee in another place, in passing the Bills, added a rider to the effect that it was strongly of the opinion that the agreement between the L.C.C. and the City Corporation should be amended so as to provide that the cattle market should be used for dual purpose storage.
My right hon. Friend regards it as of the utmost importance that the way should be left clear for negotiation between the parties concerned with a view to securing some modification in the interests of market users and of the relief of traffic congestion. If the agreement were annexed as a Schedule to the Bill this would add yet more rigidity where what is wanted is flexibility to enable the interests of all concerned to be met.
I suggest, therefore, that the fears which have been expressed tonight, while I quite accept and understand that they are very proper constituency points to raise, are matters which should be looked at in the wider context of the urgent need to do something in Covent Garden for the benefit of those who trade there, for the benefit of those who work there, and for the abolition of fire risk.
I have tried to deal very quickly with these points, but I thought that the House would wish to know the Government's views.
I am very glad to have the opportunity to speak immediately after the Minister and the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe), because the situation with which we are confronted has been made infinitely worse by the Minister's statement. I shall be interested to hear what the representatives of the London County Council say about the Minister's remarkable statement. If it meant anything, it meant that the hon. Gentleman is now hoping that the London County Council and the City Corporation will go back on the agreement which they have made and which was the basis of the compromise out of which the Bill arose. This is a serious matter, not only for the citizens of Islington, on whose behalf I have a special duty to speak, but also for the whole population of London and the entire industry. I am very glad to observe from the example of the speech of the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes) that concern about the Bill is not limited to Islington.
It is shared by the London County Council which petitioned against the Bill and which was subsequently induced to withdraw its petition on the strength of a definite agreement that if it did so there would be conditions limiting the use of the site in Islington, both in period of time and with regard to user. Now we have heard the Minister say that he is hoping that parties to the agreement will betray still further the interests of the people of Islington.
Therefore, I hope that the House will excuse me if I put the case not only for Islington but for the whole of the community. I also represent trade union interests. Regardless of party, status of interest, all the citizens of Islington are up in arms about this proposal to foist on the most heavily congested London borough part or whole of Covent Garden Market.
I do not want to repeat anything which has been said before, but I tell the House that during the last few weeks I have received by post petitions from all kinds of organisations in Islington, from churches, youth clubs, Islington Trades Council, Conservatives, Labour organisations, Boy Scouts—[Laughter.] Hon. Members need not laugh. We are desperately short of open spaces in Islington. There is not one. We want more opportunities for Boy Scouts and other youth organisations to be able to employ their leisure time more usefully.
I regret to say that we have had a great deal of juvenile delinquency recently in Islington, and one of the reasons is the shortage of open spaces. I do not know whether it is in order to quote the Duke of Edinburgh who in Canada was talking about the physical fitness of the nation and pleading for opportunities for open-air development and sport. It is lack of those opportunities in Islington which makes it so disgraceful that a proposition such as this should be put forward, even if only for a temporary period, let alone for an extended period, or extended purpose as the Minister suggests.
It is not only from the point of view of the welfare of the citizens of Islington that I am concerned. The borough council is repeatedly pointing out the dangers to public health. I mention that in addition to the danger of traffic and problems such as the noise, the nuisance and the inconvenience.
I make no apology for reminding the House that in the last few weeks Islington has unfortunately suffered from a severe attack of polio. We have had 38 serious cases of polio in our borough in the last few weeks, and four of them were fatal. One of them was of a boy of ten, Michael Adams, who was buried this afternoon. Those are serious matters and they result partly from and are certainly accentuated by the lack of open spaces.
There is another matter which concerns the local authority. Unhappily, in Islington we suffer to a very large degree from rat infestation. In my "surgery" on Fridays I hear over and over again about the dilapidated, antiquated and rat-infested houses in which whole families are having to live, and I frequently appeal to the local authority to deal with specific cases. The Medical Officer of Health for Islington told me this morning that one of the strongest reasons why he is opposed to the scheme is that if we move a great deal of vegetables and horticultural produce into the borough it is bound to increase the risks of rat infestation. This is a matter of great concern to the borough. Only yesterday I received a petition passed unanimously by the Ruridecanal Conference, expressing very deep concern at what would happen if this, the one site available for adding to our open space in Islington, is denied us because of the agreement reached between the City Corporation and the London County Council.
I would remind the House that this agreement was reached without any consultation with the borough council—and, I gather, without much consultation with the Islington members of the London County Council. I would be content to ask for the judgment of the House on this Motion to leave out the Clause if it rested on Islington's case alone, but it does not. As the hon. Member for Ash-ford (Mr. Deedes) and others have pointed out, this is not a proper solution of the Covent Garden Market problem. It is obvious from what was said both by the Minister and by the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster that they do not regard it as a suitable solution. It is not clear to me whether it is put forward as a permanent or a temporary solution; some people say one thing and some the other.
We agree that there should be some solution of the Covent Garden Market problem, and the sooner the better. We all agree that the fire risk should be dealt with and that the traffic congestion is a disgrace to the Metropolis. Therefore, there must be a solution, but it must be a permanent solution. It is said that this is a temporary solution, but the House must understand that any temporary solution prejudices a permanent one. The Minister and the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, as well as my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), know that the way to deal with the problem is to find a permanent solution. The Runciman Committee recommended the setting up of a market authority, which is what the Minister promised to do by legislation, and then let the market authority find a site, control the organisation, and satisfy my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish).
Let us have a permanent solution, but do not let us pretend—because it is hypocritical to pretend—that a temporary solution assists a permanent solution. It is idle to pretend that if the Clause is agreed it will assist in finding a permanent solution. We have heard vague phrases about the Minister's searching for a site. There should be a viligant search for a site, but if the Bill is passed there will be no incentive to look for one or pressure to do so either upon the City Corporation or the London County Council.
It may be that it is the duty of the London County Council to find a site. I would prefer the County Council to do it, because it is the planning authority, and has said, both in its petition against the Bill and in evidence given by its own representatives, including its architect, that it is completely opposed, on planning grounds, to Covent Garden Market going to Islington. It knows it is wrong and has said so. It may be because of some compromise—I will return to that point in a moment—that it has withdrawn its petition. But I still believe that it is its duty to find a permanent site.
One of my complaints is that until recently it has not been vigilant in finding a site. About four weeks ago, my hon. Friends who represent the Islington constituencies had a meeting with the leader of the London County Council and my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham to examine this question and see what was the proper solution. We agreed on two things, that the real desideratum was to find a permanent site as a permanent solution and, if possible, to avoid going to Islington. We were told they had a good prospect of finding a site.
We asked how long the Council had been looking for a site and we were told for three weeks. I was amazed. I thought that the London County Council had been searching diligently for months and years. But we were told—I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham will be glad to confirm this—that the Council had been looking only for three weeks, because it knew that there would be opposition to its Bill and that if it did not
As a result of the Islington, Borough Council and hon. Members fighting this Clause tooth and nail, in view of its injustice and humanity, a search had been started to find an alternative site and there seemed to be a good prospect of finding one. I am anxious that the search should continue. I am sure another site will be found, which would make unnecessary the powers for which the City is asking. Therefore I do not want the City to have those powers. I am convinced that if the pressure brought to bear on the L.C.C. and the City during the last few weeks is relaxed, the incentive to the members and officers of the London County Council to do what they ought to have been doing for years will evaporate. Therefore I am determined to do everything possible to maintain that pressure.
There is no reason why the City should have these powers, nor is there any reason why the London County Council should ask that the City should have them. Hon. Members will have seen the most extraordinary document sent out in the last few days and signed by a most extraordinary concatenation of hon. Members—the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham, my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and another hon. Member opposite. I do not think I have ever come across a document more confused or specious, and I must detain the House while I say something about it.
The way in which the two Bills have been brought before the House is most confusing. Shortly after the Runciman Report was published advocating the setting up of a market authority; after the Bill of the City Corporation in 1956–57 had been withdrawn, and after the Minister had said he was contemplating the setting up of a market authority, we find this.
Will hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey, note this? When the Runciman Committee said that it would set up a market authority, the City Corporation took fright. The Corporation does not want a market authority itself, it wants to be a market authority. My hon. Friend, with his well known belief in nationalised industries, would I am sure prefer to have the industry with which he is so passionately concerned organised by a statutory authority on which his union is represented, as recommended by the Runciman Committee, than have the industry and the markets run and governed, as the City Corporation wants it, by the City Corporation, whether in the city, in Islington or anywhere else.
The City Corporation says, "This will not do. We do not want a market authority; but we want to be the market authority." It refers to charters given it by King John and says, "We have always had markets and we know how to run them". It pretends to be a democratic authority, which it is not, and a market authority, which it is not. It tries to circumvent the desire of the Government and the Opposition that effect should be given to the Runciman Report.
The idea of a temporary solution arose in this way. Once it was realised that something was to be done about a market authority, London County Council—and we cannot blame it—said, "If anyone other than the statutory authority is to be the market authority, we should like to be the market authority, to find the land and do what the Runciman Committee wants". I do not blame it for that, because I would rather have that Council than the City Corporation.
It opposed the Corporation Bill and said, "As the planning authority, we are not going to allow you to do this. You may be freeholders of the Caledonian Market site, but you are not going to turn that into a dump for containers from Covent Garden Market because we as the planning authority have earmarked that site for a long time. We want to get rid of the abattoir, the rat infestation and the overcrowded conditions and to save this valuable site of 40 acres. We want to plan, zone and develop it as an open space and to protect the children in the schools. We do not want them to suffer from the traffic congestion and fire risks which now exist in Covent Garden Market."
That is the real objective of London County Council. Hon. Members may well say, why is London County Council now adopting this attitude? London County Council has a General Powers Bill which we shall be considering later this evening, which it is very anxious to have, so it tried to do a deal with the City Corporation and an agreement was reached. I shall not read it to the Committee because many hon. Members have already read it and others can do so. The agreement was made without consulting Islington. I think they had good motives in making that deal. I would not condemn them too much if they lived up to the agreement made. Let the House bear in mind what the agreement says. London County Council—for which I have the greatest admiration—with its intense belief in planning these 40 acres for open space and housing, because of its interests in its General Powers Bill said to the Corporation. "We shall withdraw our petition against your Bill and enter a very complicated agreement with you," which I hope will be a Schedule to the Bill. These two authorities entered into solemn agreement between themselves imposing serious limitations on the City Corporation, first that their user should be limited to five years and secondly that their user should be limited to the purpose of storing empty containers. There should be no bulk sales.
It would not be too bad if the position were that that agreement would be honoured, but it is obvious from what the Minister admitted in proceedings in the House of Lords and from what he said today that he and the whole trading interests would like the agreement to be dishonoured. I am trying to save my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham and the London County Council from what I believe is an incredible act of folly. Let me be clear about this: the motives of my hon. Friend and the L.C.C. are perfectly honourable, but I think that they made a stupid bargain.
Order. I think the hon. Member is discussing the subject matter of his second Instruction. If so, we can take that formally. The agreement seems to be more germane to the second Instruction.
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker. I do not intend to discuss the agreement but to illustrate why I think that Clause 9 should be omitted. Opinions may differ about the agreement, and my opinion is that the L.C.C. were outwitted in making the agreement by a rather clever City Corporation. For reasons which I think do it credit, the London County Council, having made a bargain, however bad it may be and however much it may be a betrayal of the people of Islington, feels that as an honourable body it should support the Clause which is based on the agreement.
If hon. Members want to know the true feeling of the L.C.C. they should direct their attention to the evidence given by the L.C.C. officers. Evidence was given in another place by the Superintendent Architect of Metropolitan Buildings an Architect to the L.C.C., the person responsible not only to the people of Islington but also to the people of the rest of London for the planning of the amenities of the area. He said:
The requirements, as far as the Council's responsibilities are concerned, are firstly our interest of open space. Islington is the second lowest efficiency area of London for open space, and even on interim standards of open space under the Development Plan Islington is short of 400 acres of open space.
He went on:
In allowing a temporary use of this site for empty containers the Council realises that they are prejudicing and setting back other major responsibilities which lie on their shoulders, and at the same time if this area becomes one which is also being used for food produce trading or movement it would in itself cause greater difficulties than only limiting it to empty containers.
The people of Islington are having a raw deal, and an attempt is made to assuage them by telling them that this will be for only five years and that it will be limited to empty containers. The people of Islington are entitled to be very suspicious of this specious agreement, which is so contrary to the views of the planning authorities of the London County Council. They are particularly justified in their suspicions, for the whole of the traders, farmers' unions and the tenants say, "We do not want a temporary move to Islington. If we want to move anywhere, we want to move permanently. We are not going to put up our sheds and buildings and pull them down again after five years. It does not make sense." But if it does not make sense to the trading community, what is the result for Islington? How can one say: "All right, it is only for five years. You need not worry after that"? The Minister has said today that he cannot guarantee this will be for only five years, and what of the vested interests in five years' time?
May I say to my hon. Friend that, as far as the trade unions are concerned, it is strictly on the understanding that this is a temporary move that I support this particular Bill and Clause tonight? If there was any doubt about it being temporary, I assure him that I should not be supporting this Bill.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that, and I am sure that he means every word of what he said, but he cannot guarantee what will happen in five years' time, nor can the City of London. We are not prepared to accept these assurances for the reason that the Minister himself has given. He is hoping that the L.C.C. and the City Corporation will amend this agreement that they have made. They are already trying to amend it, and we have seen the compromise on which the Bill was allowed to go forward from another place.
The Minister is now saying that he does not want to limit it only to the storage of empty containers; but that would be the thin end of the wedge. If that is conceded, it makes it all the more difficult to preserve it as a temporary site, because the bigger the user and the development there the less likely it is that one will be able to turn them out after five years. Imagine the pressure that will be brought to bear on the Minister, or on any Government—and what will the L.C.C. be able to do? Nothing, and it does not even want to. Once it has got its powers, and the City has got its powers, how will there be pressure to find a new site? There will be opposition, for the marketeers will not want one, and the L.C.C. will not want to bother, any more than it has bothered in the past, until three weeks ago.
I beg the House to realise that this unholy alliance has been admitted to be unworkable. The market tenants said that they could not work it in this form. Does the hon. Baronet challenge that?
Well, I want to challenge a great deal, because it is important that hon. Members should understand this. All the tenants have put in a petition, not against the Bill but against the limitations in it. They are opposing the Bill because they do not like the five years and the restrictions. They want it to be wide open. But that is just what the people of Islington do not want and why they cannot accept these half-hearted promises which have been made to them, which are set out in an agreement which is not enforceable. The representatives of the London County Council agreed that it was not enforceable. The representatives of the City Corporation said they would not want to enforce it if they could. They want to change it.
This is an absurd position for the House to find itself in, for a private corporation to have made this agreement, unsatisfactory in its nature, unworkable according to the market interests, fraught with such disastrous consequences for the people of Islington and, on top of all that, fatal to the one thing which everybody who is interested in Covent Garden Market wants to achieve: that is a permanent solution.
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Ashford. We want a permanent solution. This present solution however, does not satisfy anybody. It certainly does not satisfy the London County Council, which objects to it. It does not satisfy the marketeers, because they are opposed to it. It does not satisfy the City Corporation, because the Corporation, through its counsel in the House of Lords, has asked that the agreement made with the London County Council should be modified. Therefore, it is not only completely unsatisfactory to every interest in the matter, but it is put forward as a temporary solution which is inherently and of necessity bound to defeat the drive, incentive and pressure for a permanent solution.
Nothing could be more ridiculous. I hope that on this Private Bill the House of Commons, which has listened so patiently—I apologise for having been so long, but I feel passionately serious about this in the interests of my constituents—will exercise a judicial function and recognise the deep-rooted objections from all sides to the Bill, the real injustice that it would cause to the people of Islington and, therefore, having given a Second Reading to the Bill, will accept the Motion for the deletion of Clause 9.
I had hoped that I would not need to enter into this debate. The facts of the case have been set out so succinctly by Members on both sides that the House cannot be in any doubt of them. The case for action has been made, but certain points have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) and I can hardly let them go unanswered.
My hon. Friend asked about the search for a permanent site and suggested that the London County Council had not been prosecuting the search. I assure the House that that is not the fact. The Council has been looking for a site or sites for a long time. It was only recently, however, that the working party was set up and at that stage the council was in a position to put before the working party and the Minister's officials a number of sites. That is why it is possible at this early stage to record such progress as has been announced to us here tonight.
The second point with which I want to deal is the doubt about what will happen if the Bill is passed containing Clause 9 and what will be the council's attitude to it. The council has made an agreement on the strict understanding that the proposed site is to be a temporary one. It will condition all its actions in the future on that basis. The council happens to believe that if it allowed bulk produce to go on to the temporary site and permanent buildings to be erected, there would be a great danger that the site would not be vacated in the near future.
In view of the fact that it is the planning authority that has very decided ideas that that site should be used for improving the amenities of the Islington area, it is not likely to allow the erection of any permanent building on that site, and any arrangement which might be made under the agreement which has been referred to, which can be flexible so long as it is not passed into law, will be conditioned by the objects which I have just stated—that is to say, that the council will not allow the erection of permanent buildings and it will not allow any substantial quantity of bulk produce to accumulate until after a permanent site has been found. The reason for that is clear. There may well be found a site which would be more satisfactory for permanent use, but that site may require a considerable time to prepare for use as a market.
In the same way as the council and the City have entered into discussions with the Ministry and, after much negotiation, have decided that this is the kind of scheme that can be recommended to the House; in the same way as the council and the City would be faithful to one another, I can give the undertaking to the Islington Members that they can rely on the word of the London County Council. We are satisfied that in this extremely difficult situation we have taken the necessary safeguard to secure the future of the Caledonian Market.
The House should not think that there are 40 acres of open space there ready to be developed. There are not; there are six acres available. As hon. Members for Islington know only too well, a very large part of the site is taken up by the abattoir which is run by the City Corporation. It is of vital concern to London, and it must continue to exist there until an alternative site is found. To find a site for the abattoir is pretty well as difficult as finding a site for market stalls. We do not know how many years it will be before a site is found, but pending that time it is quite impossible to develop any of that land for housing. An area near an abattoir is not a fit and proper place for housing. Therefore, the whole matter is in a state of abeyance.
Although we appreciate the attitude of Islington in the matter, it seems to be a little like a nigger in the woodpile when it has the opportunity to give London this chance to deal with the problem and the opportunity to experiment with new methods. I understand that when the empties are removed there will be the possibility of redeveloping on the Covent Garden site, which might lead to the decision that there is no need to go anywhere else, bearing in mind that at the end of a number of years—we do not know how many—there may not be such things as empty returnable containers. They may be replaced by destructible containers. I would like to say, therefore, that the county council is most anxious that the City of London Bill should go through without alteration. I do ask hon. Members to vote against the Instruction which is before the House.
I do not want to detain the House at this late hour, but this is a most important discussion so far as my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, Southwest (Mr. A. Evans) is concerned. I would start by reminding the House, in case hon. Members are not yet aware of the fact, that my constituency is almost one mile long and one mile wide, that there is in it not one single piece of open space—indeed, not one single blade of grass—and just outside it there is the Metropolitan Cattle Market. That is where many of my constituents hope to obtain some small amount of open space in the not too far distant future. We see this Bill as something calculated to kill any hope there might be that in five or ten or even fifteen years' time there might be that open space. We see in it the danger that there will be no land for housing purposes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) referred to one or two matters on which I should like to comment. The hon. Lady disagreed with the contention which has been put to the House that the London County Council had been looking at a site for only three weeks. It is true that the council has been looking for a site for longer than that, but it was made clear at the conference just how long the council has been looking. We were then told that it was "only effectively for three weeks". That is what we were told when we met the Leader of the London County Council, Sir Isaac Hayward. The hon. Lady the Member for Peckham was with us, and that is what we were told.
Furthermore, it is the contention of the hon. Lady, and of the L.C.C., that the matter would be determined by the Metropolitan Cattle Market being used only as a temporary site, but the L.C.C. was against the Cattle Market being used at all. It is only because of this agreement which we are discussing that the county council are saying that they will assist the City Corporation in urging this through.
The county council was against the site being used permanently, and, therefore, pending negotiations with the City Corporation about this matter, they did lodge a petition; but it was understood that that petition would be withdrawn when the terms of the agreement were agreed with the City Corporation.
I do not want to be drawn into discussing the terms of the agreement, but the main provision was the withdrawal of both petitions. I hope that we shall be able to go into that a little later on this evening. My information is that the county council is determined that this should be only a temporary site. But, after all that the hon. Lady has said, will it be within the purview of the county council to say that this will be only a temporary site? Is it in the long run a matter where only the county council will be concerned? The hon. Lady tells us that the L.C.C. will not allow the erection of buildings on the site. Here again, will it be the L.C.C. which will have the last word?
There is the right of appeal from any decision by the L.C.C. and when the Minister of Agriculture tells us that he wants to see storage of full containers on this site then surely that must mean the erection of buildings, and buildings of a type contrary to what appears later on in the agreement. The application will presumably go from the City Corporation to the L.C.C. for planning permission to build these necessary buildings for the storage of full containers.
In view of that statement, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no need whatever for permanent buildings for the storage of produce of the type that we have in mind.
There will nevertheless have to be far more solid buildings than intended by the L.C.C. to allow for the storage of empty containers. If one is to store full containers, it must be accepted that one will need rather more solid buildings than are required for the storage of empty containers, some of which, in fact, do not need any buildings at all. Once one starts putting full containers there, one will need rather more elaborate buildings. That is why in the agreement it is specifically laid down, and has been agreed between the two parties, that it will be only a Dutch barn type of erection that will be put on the site.
When the full containers get there—that is what the Ministry wants to see there—the City Corporation will apply to the L.C.C. for permission to erect far more substantial buildings there. Then the L.C.C. will turn it down, and there will be an appeal to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, and if there is the backing of the Ministry of Agriculture, the Minister of Housing and Local Government is likely to be forced to accept the appeal of the City Corporation and reject the contention of the planning authority, the L.C.C.
In the last resort, it does not rest with the planning authority. There is an appeal to the Minister. The Minister is to a certain extent not completely bound to take into account the views of another Minister in the same Government. However, we know from the Minister of Agriculture that he wants full containers to be stored there, and, on appeal, the Minister of Housing and Local Government will be fairly certain to allow the bigger buildings to be erected there which are necessary for the storage of full containers.
We are told by the hon. Lady that Islington can rely on the L.C.C. As I have said, I should be prepared to accept that, but I understand that in the last resort it is not the L.C.C. that we have to rely upon in both matters. One matter is the use to be made of the site, and as to the other, any appeal as to the question of the buildings does not rest in finality with the L.C.C.; it is Government Ministers who are supporting the City Corporation in the present state of the Clause, rather than the agreement, who will make the final decision.
Another point that the hon. Lady made was that if we used the Metropolitan Cattle Market there might be a possibility of redeveloping the Covent Garden site. I have understood for many years that the L.C.C. has in mind a very big redevelopment scheme in the general Covent Garden Market area. I have always understood—and I think I am interpreting its evidence to the Runciman Committee correctly—that it really wanted to see a very substantial change in the nature of the Covent Garden Market and in the Covent Garden Market area. As I undertand it, it would like to see a very great reduction in the amount of activity in the market and in the Covent Garden Market area. If it could secure it, it would like to see the disappearance of the market from that part of London and its resiting elsewhere. I believe that that is one of the reasons why it is asking in its Bill for this power to be able to purchase land for various market purposes.
Where, then, have we suddenly got the idea from, about which the hon. Lady has told us—as far as I can see, it is contrary to the general policy of the L.C.C.—that if the Metropolitan Cattle Market can be used, the Covent Garden Market on its present site can be redeveloped?
Might be redeveloped. I accept that correction. But this is contrary to the general idea of the London County Council for that area. There again, the L.C.C. is the planning authority, and so an application for authority would have to go to it. Therefore, on which side of the fence is the London County Council in this matter? As I understand it, that has never been said by anyone else. Until the hon. Lady said it, I had never heard that one of the ideas of using the Metropolitan Cattle Market was to allow the redevelopment of the Covent Garden Market so that the job could be done properly there. I had understood that the Metropolitan Cattle Market site was to be used simply as a store until a permanent site could be found, and then that would become a permanent store for both empty containers and full containers.
This is an important point for my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey (Mr. Mellish). He seems to be under the impression that the Covent Garden Market will be redeveloped in toto on its present site, whereas as I understand these two Bills that is not the intention. The workers in the Covent Garden Market, once these Bills have gone through, will face the prospect, irrespective of whether the Metropolitan Cattle Market is used or not, of working both in Covent Garden and somewhere else in the greater London area. It is the intention of these Bills to make that a matter of permanency and not a temporary provision.
The Metropolitan Cattle Market might be temporary, but the assumption behind the two Bills is that sooner or later a permanent site will be found to which a major part of the market activities will be transferred, the remainder staying at Covent Garden. If the L.C.C. has its way, the smaller the amount remaining at Covent Garden, the better for the L.C.C., and I largely agree. The more that can be hived off to some other site, preferably out of the centre of London, the better for all concerned. I do not think that that suits my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey, but nevertheless, although I do not understand his argument—
I shall be only too pleased to hear from my hon. Friend if he is able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker.
In Committee in another place, the Remembrancer, the equivalent of the City Clerk of the Corporation of London, was questioned on the idea of the temporary use of the market site and asked whether, if the problem of alternative accommodation were not solved in the five years envisaged, the Corporation would ask for an extension. He frankly answered that if there were no solution in five years an extension would seem to be inevitable. He was then asked if the site might not become permanent and, again speaking frankly, he said that if no other site were found it might well become permanent.
So it can be seen that at least in the back of the mind of the Corporation was the thought that this site might become permanent. It is the fact that it might become permanent which so troubles my constituents and those of my colleagues from Islington. One or two hon. Members laughed when reference was made to the feeling of many people in Islington. The Mayor of Islington called a conference on 1st July, and that conference was attended by representatives of the Air Training Corps, the Boys' Brigade, the Baptist Church, the Chamber of Commerce and Trade, the Church of England and a whole list of organisations, including Islington Trades Council. Our opposition to the Bill has the full support of all Transport and General Workers' Union branches in Islington, the people who will actually have this scheme foisted on them whether they like it or not. They number very many because there are many bus garages in Islington, particularly in my constituency.
My connection with Islington has been for a matter of only eighteen months. I have previously lived all my life in West London. I thought that out there we had a bad housing problem. Since moving into Islington, I have realised that West London has no housing problems at all compared with those of the North London boroughs. Every Monday night, and on other nights, many people come to see me about housing problems. Islington Borough Council closed its housing list in 1956 with some 16,000 families on the list awaiting accommodation. That is not the full extent of the problem, because many of the families who come to see me are not on the list. Nor are they on the L.C.C.'s list. Yet they are living with one, two or three children in one room, or in one room and a scullery.
Those people are looking at the market site and now we have to tell them that the City Corporation, with the support of many other people, is to take that site from what Islington Borough Council and many other people have always considered its proper purpose, namely, the provision of houses and open spaces. Most of the organisations in Islington are against the proposals.
The position of the City Corporation has been dealt with to some extent this evening, but I hope that I will be forgiven for referring to it again. In paragraph (3) of the Preamble, the Bill says:
The Corporation have by right prescription charter and statute numerous rights duties and obligations with respect to the management and development of market facilities for the distribution of food for the London area and elsewhere.
That conveys the impression that the City Corporation is really the market authority for the Greater London area, but that is not the case. The City Corporation was given a charter to enable it to provide markets by King Edward III, and now owns five markets in the London area. The charter also provided that no one else was allowed to open markets within seven miles of the City without the Corporation's permission. Nevertheless, in 1670 Charles II decided to allow the Earl of Bedford to open a market at Covent Garden—an abrogation of the rights of the City Corporation in this
matter. For that reason the Corporation has never liked Covent Garden Market. The market does not belong to the Corporation, whereas most of the other London markets do; it is within seven miles of the City and the Corporation was not consulted about it.
That market is still owned by the descendants of the Earl and the City Corporation does not own or control it. It is not the market authority for the London area. But it does own the site in Islington, and in 1957–58 it brought before Parliament a Bill which would have enabled it to open a full horticultural market on the Metropolitan Cattle Market site in Islington, which would have been in competition with Covent Garden.
The Corporation tried to argue that this proposal was in accord with the recommendation of the Runciman Committee, which suggested a new horticultural market in the north of London. The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster (Sir H. Webbe) tried to tell us that it was by pure accident that somebody not connected with the City but with the Ministry of Agriculture noticed that the City Corporation owned these 30–40 acres in Islington, of which about nine acres stood vacant, and suggested that this site might be suitable for the storage of containers from Covent Garden Market. I am doubtful about this story. It seems to me that the present proposal by the City of London, while fitting in with the plans of the Ministry of Agriculture, is an attempt by the Corporation to get its foot into the door and get permission from this House to use that land for purposes ancillary to the provision of a general horticultural market, and that once it is there it will regard itself as having gone some way towards its objective of opening a full horticultural market on that site. It has never forgotten the presence of Covent Garden, and it hopes to get the chance to run its own market in North London. If it gets this first foot in the door we may well see it eventually given permission to use the site for horticultural purposes.
In this Bill, in the other place, it tried to obtain powers to use the place permanently, but the agreement has laid it down that it will be used only for five years. The Minister has told us that he hopes to find a site in the near future, but my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has pointed out that if this possible permanent site is as near materialisation as the Minister has made out there is no point in pressing on with Clause 9 of the Bill. The Minister made no attempt to convince the House. He rushed through his speech quickly. I realise that the hour was late, but the subject merited more consideration, and we should have been given more information. The Minister told us of the imminence of finding this site, and in fact said that two sites were under consideration at the moment, and that one might be available almost immediately. Yet we have to pass the Clause because it is essential to have in reserve these powers to use the Metropolitan Cattle Market.
If the Minister is so worried about this problem and deems it essential to have something in reserve, I suggest that he and his Ministry bring in legislation to set up a market authority so that we can have a proper authority to do the job and not rely on this hotch-potch of bodies from various authorities, all trying to get a foot in the door and establish their position.
I do not blame them. My hon. Friend the Member for Peckham "tut-tuts," but I would support the proposal of the L.C.C., because I think that the L.C.C. should be represented on such a market authority. It is the job of the Minister to provide legislation to enable a market authority to be set up and to take the necessary powers for the acquisition of sites. Then we could look round for a permanent site or some temporary provision. The Minister could give no idea of what his Ministry proposed to do regarding a market authority, and I feel that when we are discussing this legislation which is so closely linked to that matter we should be given such information. But we have not been told anything.
The Runciman Committee recommended that Brentford and Stratford Markets might be extended in order to relieve the load on Covent Garden Market. I had long known that the hours of one, two, three and four o'clock existed, but the other day I found that five and six also were hours on the clock, because I went to have a look at the activities in Brentford Market. I found that there is still room for a certain amount of expansion there. Since the publication of the Runciman Report several firms have moved there from Covent Garden.
I also learned that everyone in the trade, including the union representatives retailers and tenants—I know that the position is the same at Covent Garden—considers that the best way to deal with the problem is to get rid of the chargeable containers altogether. The Runciman Committee recommended research by the Minister into the economics of the problem.
We are discussing storage facilities primarily for empty containers and the Minister cannot tell us what research has been done into the question of getting rid of the containers altogether, which would make the provision of storage completely unnecessary. It is ridiculous that produce coming to this country from the Continent should arrive in non-returnable containers while most of the produce grown in this country travels in containers which are chargeable and returnable. The only real answer is to get rid of the returnable container.
At present a retailer arrives at the market with his lorry loaded with returnable containers. He parks his lorry and goes round the stalls to order the produce he requires. Then he goes to have something to eat and two or three hours later he comes back to find that the empty containers have been removed and returned to the individual tenants, or to whatever form of central storage there is, and full containers have been loaded on to the vehicle ready for him to drive away.
What will happen when separate storage facilities are provided for the empty containers? A lot of tenants are worried about the matter. A retailer coming from South London will have to drive past Covent Garden at about four o'clock in the morning and go on to Islington where he will cause more annoyance to residents who are already annoyed by the presence of the abattoir in the borough. At Islington he will dispose of some of his empty containers. But he may also have containers belonging to tenants who are still at Covent Garden with the approval of the L.C.C., and these containers will not be stored at Islington. So he will have to arrange for his lorry to be loaded in such a manner that these containers may be unloaded at Covent Garden.
At Islington there will be a queue of lorries all waiting to be dealt with at the same time, and there is a limit to the number of porters employed there and the amount of work they can do. Then the retailer will have to drive back to Covent Garden and get rid of the rest of his empty containers and get his lorry loaded with full containers. I do not think this procedure will relieve the congestion at Covent Garden at all.
I think, as was said by the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes), there is a distinct possibility that it will actually increase the congestion because a large number of retailers will have to go very close to Covent Garden Market on their northward journey, then turn and come back into the market. They will go past it and back in a couple of hours or so and so increase the congestion in the area. Talking of congestion, I notice that in 1931 there was congestion of the area around the Metropolitan Cattle Market and the City Corporation took powers to designate any part of the market as a car park and demand charges for it.
I hope we shall get some action from the Minister as a result of this debate even if this Bill goes through. I hope we shall have impressed on him the necessity of setting up a market authority and giving the maximum amount of encouragement to research in his Department towards getting rid of returnable containers so that we do not get this wretched problem of empties. If we do that we shall have done something by this debate even if the people of Islington are forced to accept what I regard as a first step towards the permanent use of this site for storage or as a full-scale horticultural market.
I do not propose to detain the House for long. I am sure hon. Members will be delighted to hear that. It is the duty of every hon. Member to defend his constituents' and his parochial interests. Any Member who fails to do that is not worthy of his membership of this House. If I may say so to my non. Friends from Islington constituencies, they have certainly carried out their pledges to their constituents tonight. They have taken a long time to do it. I must say I have never heard so many arguments repeated so often by so few in such a great length of time.
And so well; I concede that. I want this Bill supported and this Clause retained. My hon. Friends have defended the interests of their constituents, and I wish to defend the interests of those who work in Covent Garden. My hon. Friend may be interested to know that some of them live in Islington and do not agree with what he has said tonight. So it is not true that in what he said he carried with him 100 per cent. all who live and work in Islington.
To listen to Islington hon. Members one would believe that if we do not have this temporary use of this site for storage of empties from Covent Garden, almost overnight lovely flats, open spaces, schools and the dreamland that Islington has been rightly praying for for many years would spring up. If that were so and if this move would deprive Islington in the immediate future of the sort of thing they have been talking about, I should not be supporting the Bill, but that is not so. There is an abattoir on this site, taking up seven-eighths of it, and that will not be moved for a very long time. It belongs to the City Corporation.
I hope my hon. Friend will pay me the courtesy of listening to me after I have listened to him for about an hour. It is the opinion of the market porters and trade union representatives who work in Covent Garden Market that they do not want to leave Covent Garden. They want to stay on that site. I am asked to say that quite firmly tonight. They are anxious to agree with what the Runciman Committee put forward, that the site should be improved and conditions made better for those who work there. That is why they support London County Council and the City Corporation in this temporary move to the Islington site. I insist on this being understood by my hon. Friends: the logic is that if this move is made a considerable acreage in the market will become available for repairs, renovations and improvements, and the market people certainly hope that as a consequence of the move to the Islington site their conditions will be improved and, for the first time in a long period, a start will be made on such matters as fire prevention and the general improvement of the market. I am asked to state clearly that because they have been given an assurance that this is a temporary move, they support the Bill.
My hon. Friends say, "We know what happens. We have had temporary hutments erected, supposed to last for two or three years, but they have lasted for many years. These temporary things end by becoming permanent." I cannot predict the future, except to say that if there is to be an alteration and the period is to be extended, there must be another Act of Parliament. Let us be clear about that. I pray that this wretched Government will not be in power in four or five years time. On this at least my hon. Friends and I can join: we hope that we shall not have another five years of Tory rule.
If that dreadful thing were to happen, I cannot imagine those flats being built on that site in the next five years. If my hon. Friends are fair, they will admit that. It will require an Act of Parliament to take the land away from the City Corporation; Islington and the London County Council have not the power to do it. Parliament will have to do it. One cannot put a C.P.O. on the City Corporation. If my hon. Friends want the land used to fulfil all their dreams, only an Act of Parliament can do it. Let us have some realism in the debate and stop talking in airy-fairy terms as if some odd trade unionist and some odd L.C.C. members have suddenly devised a plan which will hold my hon. Friends back from this great dream of theirs which lies just around the corner.
My hon. Friend has talked for so long that he has gone deaf. That is one thing I did not say. I said that I hoped and prayed that such a thing would not happen. My hon. Friend, with his lawyer's wit, has twisted that into saying that I thought that the Tories would be re-elected. My hon. Friend is too much of a politician. I am a simple layman. He is indeed a lawyer-politician, which makes it worse—not a very good combination!
We want the Bill because the Covent Garden workers want better conditions of labour. They believe that this Bill means exactly what it says, that the move will be temporary and that eventually they will return to their own market, which will have been considerably improved as a result of the temporary move.
I join my hon. Friends in saying that the trade unions also want the establishment of a market authority. I ask the Minister not necessarily to reply about that tonight but to bear in mind that the sooner we have such an authority the better for all concerned.
I beg to move,
That it be an Instruction to the Committee on the Bill to amend the Bill to conform with the terms of the Agreement between the Corporation of London and the London County Council, dated 6th April, 1959, relating to the storage of horticultural produce and containers, and to annex the Agreement as a Schedule to the Bill, in accordance with S.O. 157 (Agreement to be annexed to bill).
This is the last line of defence for the protection of the people of Islington. I very much hope that in view of the full debate we have had, both on Second Reading and on the Instruction, we can have a relatively short debate on this
We also want to see whether something can be done about the removal of empties. I agree with my hon. Friends that we appear to be able to make hydrogen bombs but not to think of a way to carton vegetables. We have still to use big wooden boxes. We talk about a site for the storage of thousands of empty boxes. It is an indictment on all of us that we have not yet devised a better way of handling produce.
I have no hesitation in supporting the City of London and the L.C.C. on the Bill. I am sorry to be opposed to my hon. Friends, but I think that the Covent Garden workers are equally important in this matter, and in any case I am convinced that my hon. Friends would not get what they want overnight.
I urge that the House should adopt this Instruction for two reasons. First, it is essential that this Instruction be adopted if justice is to be done, as all hon. Members claim that they wish it to be done. The hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet), representing the London County Council, is very anxious that the people of Islington should be satisfied that this is a purely temporary measure for a temporary purpose. The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster has also assured us that he is anxious that the people of Islington should recognise that this is purely a temporary matter. All that we are asking by this Instruction is that those pious aspirations should be enshrined in this legislation.
We now have before us a Bill whereby in Part III the City is asking for certain powers, both for the acquisition of land and for the use of land at the Metropolitan Cattle Market. But it is common ground that the powers which the City Corporation is asking Parliament to give will be limited and conditioned by an agreement which has been referred to in this debate, which was referred to in another place and extensively referred to in Committee in another place. If hon. Members who have spoken in this debate are sincere, they will be aware that the whole of the immediate future operations of the Covent Garden Market at the Caledonian Road site will be governed by a private agreement of 6th April of this year between the City Corporation and the London County Council.
I must invite the House to consider the terms of the agreement. Either it is intended that this agreement should operate, or it is not so intended. If it is so intended, it is important that the public should know what the agreement states, and the only way that I can make it public is by reading it because it is not referred to so far in any Parliamentary proceeding in this House. The agreement is a very odd document. It is dated 6th April, 1959, and I should like it to be a Schedule to the Bill, but I do not know yet whether the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster intends to accept my suggestion.
The agreement defines the parties, the London County Council and the City Corporation. Then it provides in Clause 2:
The Corporation undertake not to oppose further the Council's Bill and the Council undertake not to oppose further the Corporation's Bill and each will forthwith withdraw the petition lodged against the Bill of the other.
Clause 3 provides:
The Corporation undertake to secure the amendment of Clause 9 … by the addition of the following subsections …
and it is as a result of Clause 3 of the agreement that at a late stage in the Bill the City Corporation added Clause 9 (2) and (3). Subsection (2) protects the overriding powers of the Corporation with regard to town planning. Subsection (3) says that the powers conferred by the Clause shall cease on the expiration of five years after the passing of the Act.
Now we come to the all-important Clause of the agreement. These words have deliberately not been read into the Bill, but I am anxious that they shall be understood. Clause 4 of the Agreement says this—because the subject matter is so complicated I will read the full text rather than attempt any paraphrase.
The Corporation undertakes that, subject to the extent provided by proviso (ii) of this subparagraph, any exercise by them of the powers of Clause 9 of the Corporation's Bill, if granted should only be for the purposes of providing temporary accommodation for the storage of empty containers which have been or are intended to be used in connection with the sale of horticultural produce by way of wholesale dealing in the market area, and for no other purpose".
I ask the House to mark carefully those words, "and for no other purpose". The Agreement goes on,
And further, that they will not exercise such powers as aforesaid unless they have previously obtained the consent of the Council thereto, which consent may be granted in relation only to parts of the Metropolitan Cattle Market and may be subject to such conditions as the Council may think fit dealing with the matters in the Appendix hereto.
(b) In applying for consent under this paragraph the Corporation shall furnish the Council with drawings and specifications of the buildings to be used or erected for the purpose of providing the said accommodation sufficient to enable the Council to consider the nature of the conditions to be attached to the consent.
So, the House will see that the City Corporation and the County Council went to considerable pains—and I acknowledge this readily—to ensure that if the Corporation obtained the powers they were seeking the use of the Islington site would not be limited merely to five years but would be very carefully circumscribed by this agreement.
I acknowledge readily to the hon. Lady and the L.C.C. the restrictions that the L.C.C. tried to impose on the City Corporation. It is because those restrictions are so important and vital for the protection of Islington that I am anxious that they should not merely be left in the agreement but should be written into the Bill. The reason is that if they are merely set out in the agreement they are not enforceable.
I do not know whether the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster wishes to intervene but, if necessary, I could give him the reference in the proceedings in another place where it was admitted by the counsel for the City Corporation that they were not enforceable. I will come back to that point in a moment because it is a very important point on which I am sure other hon. Members will wish to be satisfied.
Even if they were enforceable by the City Corporation or the L.C.C., they are certainly not enforceable by the Islington Borough Council, and it is the Islington Borough Council and the Islington people that I am seeking to protect. It is for their benefit that the Clause is inserted in the Bill. If the borough council had been made a party to the agreement, I should have been content, and if the hon. Gentleman or the Minister will give me an assurance that the Islington Borough Council will be made a party and that there could be no departure from the agreement without its consent, then I should equally be content; but in the absence of any such assurance I must ask the House to agree that the agreement should be scheduled to the Bill.
It is even more necessary to do that for this reason. If it is not scheduled to the Bill, the agreement, whether it be enforceable or not, could be varied at the wish of either party. If the City Corporation or the L.C.C. for any reason best known to themselves, and possibly for some quite adventitious reason in which the people of Islington had no concern and in which the people of Islington might again become the victims, decided to vary or amend the agreement—if pressure was brought by the Minister of Agriculture on them to do so they could amend it—the people of Islington would have no protection, no relief and no redress. Their only hope of protection is if the agreement is scheduled to the Bill.
I am particularly concerned about this, because the City Corporation—I am not sure whether this is true of the L.C.C. or not—has not attempted to conceal its desire to amend it. I do not know whether the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster disputes that. I think it is important that we should have this on record. I will give the House the reference in this context. I will explain why the City Corporation is anxious that the agreement should not be scheduled to the Bill. It is anxious that it should not be scheduled for the express reason that it wants to vary it.
The hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster shakes his head. I must, therefore, refer him to the printed statement which has been circulated for the purposes of this debate and is headed:
Statement on behalf of the promoters in support of the Second Reading and against the proposed Instructions to the Committee.
If the hon. Member will look at that document he will find an allegation by the City Corporation. After a reference to the Motion standing in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) and my name, the City Corporation blatantly and without compunction makes this very serious statement:
The Agreement referred to is one which does not in the submission of the Corporation require the sanction of Parliament and is not therefore an agreement to which Standing Order 157 applies.
Let us deal with that before going on to the other sentences. It is very important to get this right. Standing Order 157 says:
Where it is sought by any bill to give parliamentary sanction to any agreement, the agreement shall be annexed to the bill as a schedule thereto, and shall be printed in extenso."
I am anxious to give Parliamentary sanction to this agreement. That is the whole purpose of this proposed Instruction. Unless the agreement is a Schedule to the Bill, it will not have Parliamentary sanction.
The hon. Member will accept that there are two parties to the agreement. It is no good talking about the arrogance of the City Corporation when he knows perfectly well that the agreement has been thought out very carefully and acceded to not only by the City Corporation but by the London County Council and members of both parties on that council.
Is the hon. Member trying to explain why the agreement should not be scheduled? Is he saying that it is intended that it should be varied? If it is intended to be varied, why should not that be stated so that everybody knows about it? Why should it be concealed from the Minister and the Government? Why is it that when on 9th April the Minister made his statement in support of the Bill he was not aware of this agreement? Why did he have to come and confess that in adopting the attitude he had adopted he had been unaware of the agreement?
We will return to that in a moment.
Paragraph 10 goes on to say that the agreement
… has been entered into between the Corporation as a market authority"—
which, incidentally, it is not—
and the London County Council as the local planning authority and sets out mutual undertakings between the parties covering the exercise of the powers now sought in the Bill.
I do not quarrel with that. It goes on:
The provisions of the Agreement are subject to variation by further agreement between the parties ….
That means that the agreement is not intended to be binding. That means that both parties claim the right to modify it without coming to Parliament, without consulting the people of Islington, without consulting anybody. Therefore, in its document, the City Corporation—
They are a minority. The people of London are relying on hon. Members to protect their interests, not on the London County Council. I am interested to know what the attitude of London County Council is, because that council must make up its mind, as must the leader of the Tories on the London County Council. Whether the L.C.C. intends the agreement to be binding or not, hitherto its attitude has been, "We have made an agreement with the City Corporation which protects the people of Islington. The people of Islington need not worry. We have made an agreement". That has been the attitude of the L.C.C. But what does the City Corporation say? It says something quite different. It says, "We have made an agreement with the London County Council, but we do not think that it is binding. We want to change it and we are going to try to change it."
That is what makes us suspicious. The Corporation knows that if it intended to honour and abide by this agreement—which, when it signed it, it believed was essential both for the people of Islington and the planning authority, the London County Council—it would have no objection to its being scheduled. The leader of the Tories in the L.C.C. says that the Islington members of the L.C.C. were consulted, but even if they were they would be powerless to prevent the L.C.C. from agreeing to some modification with the City Corporation, for some reasons perhaps not apparent to the interests of Islington.
Yes, they have protested. They have protested throughout, and they are protesting now, and they will continue to do so. My hon. Friends and myself are here for the purpose of protesting. The City Corporation goes on to say:
The parties and the Corporation submit that it would give rise to grave problems of interpretation and administration if the agreement were now to be scheduled in the Bill and given statutory effect by confirmation by Parliament
That is an extraordinary statement. The agreement is quite plain. I have read
paragraph 4. It took months of negotiations for its precise terms to be agreed. If it is open to any ambiguity or difficulty of interpretation it must be so whether or not it is scheduled. It does not seem to be very ambiguous to me.
My hon. Friend says that it is flexible, but we do not want flexibility; we want rigidity. We want the agreement which has been made—on the basis of which petitions to another place have been withdrawn—observed and honoured; we do not want something flexible, which may be modified because the City Corporation wants it modified.
I want now to return to the intervention which the hon. Member made a moment ago, in which he appeared to throw doubt on the intentions of the City Corporation. I wish to refer to the evidence of Mr. Davie, the gentleman who produced this offensive paragraph 10 and who calls himself the Remembrancer. He was asked about this agreement by counsel, who said:
There was nothing to prevent you scheduling the agreement to the Bill, was there?
Mr. Davie said:
He was then asked:
Why did you not do it
I do not think it occurred to me to do it. It did not seem a very suitable form.
That is a very odd statement—that it did not occur to him. He was then asked:
It may not be a specimen of the highest artistry of draftsmanship, but at any rate it did provide—and still does provide—that the Islington site should only be used for empties".
The answer was:
Subject to what the planning authority may say.
Mr. Davie was then asked by a Member of another place, on the Committee:
I think you said in your examination in chief that the reason for not scheduling the heads of agreement between your Corporation and the L.C.C. was to give you a possibility of amending the agreement if it became desirable.
The answer to this was:
Yes, my Lord, … Certain parts of your agreement seemed suitable for inclusion in the Bill and they have been put in. As to the agreement, as a whole, well, it would need some re-drafting … before it was scheduled.
I am reading from the minutes of evidence taken before the Select Committee, House of Lords, volume 4, and my copy is called, as they say in the House of Lords,"Die Veneris 24° Aprilis, 1959" and on page 27 there is this evidence.
They are not even squeamish about it. They make an agreement which they do not intend to honour and put it forward as an agreement for the protection of Islington and as a temporary measure, and so on.
Next, I want to deal with the Minister. I may have to be careful in what I say regarding the London County Council, but there is no need to pull any punches when dealing with the attitude of the Minister, and I wish to tell him what I think about it. This is a very sorry chapter of accidents, and the Minister should be a little careful before attempting to give the House guidance in a short and hurried speech. First, the Minister makes a statement saying that he welcomes the Runciman Report and is going to set up a market authority, and that he is going to introduce legislation, and so on. Then we have this agreement on 6th April.
Three days later—I am quoting from the minutes of evidence, document 1, page 9, the Minister makes a statement in this House in which he said:
In my statement last June, I said that the first step was to provide elsewhere facilities for storage of empty containers and bulk produce."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 9th April, 1959; Vol. 603, c. 35.]
I will not read it all.
I shall indicate in a moment that the County Council is prepared to consider the temporary use of the Caledonian Market. Somewhere I think the right hon. Gentleman says that he supports the Bill. Three days before that statement, in which the Minister is talking about temporary facilities for the storage of empty containers and bulk produce, the City Corporation and the London County Council entered into an agreement. They said it did not matter what was in the Bill, they would make an agreement between themselves that whatever powers Parliament might give them, the Islington site would be used only for empty containers and not for bulk produce. On 9th April the Minister said—I cannot find the appropriate page, I apologise for the delay—
Is my hon. Friend referring to the letter from the Ministry to the City Corporation of 10th October, 1958? In that letter the Ministry said:
We have agreed that certain views should be put before the City Corporation. I am therefore writing to you …
This is from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to the Clerk of the Corporation of the City of London—
to ask if you would be good enough to put before the City Corporation the proposal that part of the cattle market site at Islington should be used temporarily as a depot for empty containers".
I think that possibly my hon. Friend had that in mind.
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I had that in mind and also another passage, which I think equally important, on page 27 of the first days evidence. That is what I want to remind the Minister of. It is where the Minister admits—he objects to the word "confesses"—that when he made the report to the House on 6th April he did not know of the agreement. This is what he said in a statement in another place:
On 7th April, 1959 …
That is this year—
the Minister submitted a report on the City of London (Various Powers) Bill, 1959. In paragraph 5 of his report the Minister supported the Corporation's object in seeking powers in Clause 9 of the Bill to provide, temporarily, facilities for the storage of horticultural produce …
The Minister stated that he considered that this site would be suitable for these purposes".
That was his statement in April. He went on to say a month later:
When the Minister submitted this report, he was unaware that on 6th April, 1959 the Corporation of the City of London and the London County Council had entered into an agreement under which the Corporation undertakes not to use the powers sought in Clause 9 except for the storage of empty containers. It was the Minister's understanding that the powers provided by Clause 9, if granted, would be used to provide storage accommodation
at Islington not only for empty containers, but also for bulk produce, and it was on this understanding that he supported the Bill.
The Minister supported the Bill believing that the Islington site was to be used as he said, both for storage of empty containers and for bulk produce. At the same time, the City Corporation and the L.C.C. were making an agreement binding themselves that the site would be used only for storing empty containers. A few days later the Minister was confessing that he supported the Bill on an entirely faulty understanding of the position. We therefore ask what is the position? Is the Minister now supporting the Bill because he wants the agreement honoured, or is he supporting the Bill in the hope that the agreement will be dishonoured? I hope we shall have a definite reply to that question from the Minister or the hon. Member for the Cities of London and Westminster.
Is the Minister supporting the Bill because he wants the agreement to be honoured or because he hopes it will be dishonoured? That is the dilemma the Government are in, and there is only one escape from that dilemma, and that is to do the honest, clean, respectable thing and schedule the agreement to the Bill so that Parliament and the public, including the citizens of Islington, may know what is in it and what their protection is. It is a most unsatisfactory way of doing business to bring these Private Bills before Parliament, asking for wide powers and then making hole-in-the-corner agreements behind the back of Parliament, agreements which certain parties put forward as binding promises and other parties regard at the same time as agreements which can be amended, changed, varied and whittled away. That is not the way for a local authority or anyone else to ask for Parliamentary powers.
We are a legislative assembly. We ought not to grant people legislation to acquire land and become market authorities and do all these things unless the full facts are open and above board. It is an abuse of the traditions of Parliament and an abuse of the position of Parliament for the City Corporation to ask for powers, some of which it does not intend to use, some of which it intends to use only on conditions and some of which it says it will abrogate if
another Bill does not go through. May I also refer to paragraph 5 of the agreement? That is holding a pistol to the head of Parliament, because it says:
If the Council's Bill and the Corporation's Bill become law in substantially their present form the Council undertake not to exercise the powers sought by Clause 6 to establish a depot ….
There is another provision,
The Corporation undertake to withdraw Clause 9 of the Corporation's Bill if Clauses 8 and 9 of the Council's Bill or either of them fail to become law in substantially their present form or, if the Corporation's Bill passes the Committee stage in the Second House before the Council's Bill shall have passed all its stages in both Houses, the Corporation undertake not to exercise the powers sought under the said Clause 9 of the Corporation's Bill if the said Clauses 8 and 9 of the Council's Bill or either of them fail to become law in substantially their present form.
Is not that an astonishing way in which to treat the House—to ask for powers but to make this private agreement and to conceal it from the Minister, leading him to make a statement in another place which he has afterwards recognised that he would not have made if he had known of the agreement. They then ask the House to pass the Bill but are not prepared to schedule the agreement, part of which contains terms which are literally holding a pistol to Parliament and saying that if we do not pass the Bill in a particular form, certain powers will not be exercised, and if one Bill does not pass its Committee stage before another passes into law, something else will happen. These are matters which ought to be printed in the Bill, not concealed in a private document in such a way that nobody knows what will happen. This is contrary to the ordinary decencies of legislative procedure.
I beg to second the Motion.
My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) has moved this Motion so ably and fully that he has not left me a great deal to add to the information which he has given the House. This is my first venture into Private Bill legislation, and I am learning something new about it every moment. In my innocence I thought that if some corporation or other organisation sponsored a Bill before Parliament to carry out certain actions, once they obtained those powers they would normally expect to exercise them. It has surprised me to discover that apparently it is almost normal practice for sponsors of Private Bills, having obtained certain powers from this House and from another place, to have agreed in the meantime with somebody else not to exercise the powers, or to exercise only part of them.
We have spent nearly six hours discussing the City of London (Various Powers) Bill and we have still to look at the London County Council (General Powers) Bill. No matter what we say, however, these two promoters have agreed between themselves not to use certain of the powers in the Bills, once they have obtained them. This House has given a Second Reading to a Bill and has been told that, by agreement, certain powers in it are not to be used. It is more than possible that the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet) would not have supported the Bill but for that agreement, and that probably applies also to other hon. Members. Therefore, it is correct to argue that because people have supported the Bill due to the provisions of the agreement the agreement itself should be added to the Bill and the Bill amended where necessary to conform to that agreement.
My hon. Friend has already mentioned the Minister's surprise in suddenly finding, when he had already prepared the statement he was to submit, that apparently without consultation with him the City Corporation and the L.C.C. had entered into this agreement. Is that agreement going to be kept? If the agreement is between the City Corporation and the L.C.C., in certain circumstances it would not be up to the L.C.C. to resist any amendment.
The City Corporation, in its submission in the other place, has already made clear that it may well be necessary to alter the agreement. Whether as time passes that advice may be taken, we do not know. Yet the Borough of Islington is informed by the L.C.C. that it need not worry greatly about the provisions of this Bill because it has the agreement with the City Corporation on how it may be operated. But one signatory to that agreement has already let it be known publicly that as time passes it may wish to see alterations in the agreement.
What is more important is that the Minister himself, in a statement to a Committee of another place, assented rather reluctantly to the amendment of the City's Bill, with the five-year limitation on the site of the Metropolitan Cattle Market. He desires to secure relief of congestion for the Covent Garden market areas as soon as possible, and he says that he hopes the L.C.C. and the Corporation of the City of London will reconsider the terms of their agreement with a view to allowing facilities at Islington for the storage of produce for Covent Garden as well as empty containers. We have been assured that under the agreement only empty containers will be stored there, yet we have the Minister wanting them to alter the agreement to allow for the storage of full containers as well. I doubt whether once the City Corporation, the tenants of the market, and the Minister start to work on the poor L.C.C. the L.C.C. will be able to hold for long to the agreement as it stands. The Minister clearly wants the full containers there as well; the City Corporation would like to see the site turned into a full horticultural market and would like to see full containers there, so is the L.C.C. going to be able to stand out for long in the face of dissatisfaction with the agreement, as well as pressure from the Minister at the same time?
We feel that this agreement will not last for long. In fact, the City Corporation and the L.C.C. have already discussed the matter and point out an amendment to the agreement in certain circumstances, namely, that if a permanent site is found, while it may not be available for some years, in the interim period the L.C.C. would agree to allow 25 per cent. of the containers there to be full ones; that is, once a permanent site has been found.
As is known by everyone who has discussed the matter at length, however, once a permanent site is found, there is a distinct possibility, especially if existing buildings are demolished and new ones built, that it may be five or six years before such a site is actually available for use as a permanent site. In the meantime, it is possible that under pressure there may be amendment of the agreement, which, Islington has been informed, will safeguard its position, which will mean that in certain circumstances there could be storage of full containers there for several years.
The two authorities have entered into the agreement. It has been suggested in the debate tonight that it will safeguard Islington's position to a certain extent. Some hon. Members have supported the Bill because of their knowledge of what the agreement contains. Nevertheless, it is quite possible that once we have passed the Bill, the agreement may be altered as a result of pressure from various sources.
My hon. Friends who represent Islington constituencies and I are convinced that the only way to make sure that the Bill is operated in the way that we have been told, to make sure that only empty containers are stored in the Metropolitan Cattle site at Islington, which is what the London County Council has reluctantly agreed to and what the City Corporation has said that it is satisfied with, and to make sure that pressure from the Minister is not used to make the parties alter the agreement, is to amend the Bill to conform with it and to make the agreement a Schedule to the Bill, so that it has the force of law in exactly the same way as the other contents of the Bill
The House should agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) is right in his proposal that the agreement, which, I suppose, few Members here have seen, should be clearly laid before the Committee of the House which in due course will consider the Bill if and when it goes through. The House of Commons would wish the Committee, which the House itself has appointed, to have the agreement before it.
We have a surprising position over the City Corporation's Bill and the London County Council (General Powers) Bill, which the House will be considering later. These two separate public bodies are each promoting a Private Bill which has been dealt with first in the other place and has now reached this House. Behind these two Bills there is this private agreement, which has been made between the two authorities and which will limit the powers that the House is being asked to give to each of the two authorities.
I am told that this kind of agreement has been made behind the back of Parliament. I have heard that phrase used in this connection. I do not like it. I do not like to think that any public bodies act behind the back of Parliament. We are told, however, that these two authorities have entered into this agreement, which would prevent the powers given by Parliament from being used. This seems to my simple mind to be rather objectionable. To people more learned in the law than I it may be an everyday occurrence, but, looking at it from the ordinary man's point of view, it seems to me to be quite surprising and objectionable that two public bodies should so arrange their private affairs that they will seek to do something other than that which Parliament intended.
If Parliament gives a power to the City Corporation for which the City Corporation's Bill asks, Parliament intends the City Corporation to use that power along the lines that the Corporation has intended. If Parliament gives the London County Council certain powers, presumably Parliament intends that the London County Council needs those powers and will use them. Even if this is an accepted practice amongst lawyers, I hope that it will not be a practice which is encouraged by Parliament. I hope that hon. Members in all quarters of the House would say that this kind of private treaty to limit the operation of what Parliament decides is the kind of thing that might be necessary in some circumstances but one which we should not encourage. I hope that, in order to make it clear that we consider that this kind of practice should not be encouraged, we shall allow the Committee of this House to have this agreement before it as a Schedule to the Bill.
The Chairman and Members of the Select Committee in another place found themselves in great confusion. They had great difficulty in understanding exactly what these two bodies were trying to do because of this private agreement between them. Indeed, the Chairman of the Select Committee in another place said that in his fifty years' experience in dealing with private legislation he had never met the like of the complications surrounding these two Bills and the private agreement behind the parties. I hope that in order that the complications which faced the Committee in another place shall not confront the Committee of this House when it considers these two Bills, we shall agree tonight to instruct that the agreement should become a Schedule to the Bill. It would make for clarity and would clear up the suspicion that these two authorities are acting behind the back of Parliament.
I will endeavour to deal briefly with this point, although I was accused by an hon. Member of being too brief previously. I would hope, however, to state the Government's attitude to the suggestion that this agreement should be annexed as a Schedule to the Bill. I touched on some aspects of it in my previous reply in response to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford (Mr. Deedes).
I want to make quite clear that the Government would not wish to see this agreement annexed as a Schedule to the Bill. We feel that there is need for some amendment to the terms of the agreement, and that has been made abundantly clear in the second report which the Minister made to the Committee which considered this matter in another place.
One hon. Member has read extracts from it and I will not at this hour read it again; but the important thing is that the Minister feels that if we are to get the full benefit from the use of this site it is important that we should have some provision for the storage of full, as well as empty, containers. We have made no secret of this at all, and if I may say so, I was a little surprised at the use of the word "confession" which was used by, I think, the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Eric Fletcher).
What has not been brought to the attention of the House is that the Committee in another place which considered this matter made a specific reference to this very point. In the last words of the final Report of the Select Committee, it is stated that the Committee
is strongly of the opinion that the Agreement by the City Corporation and the London County Council should be amended so that the Cattle Market shall be used for dual purpose storage".
This is what we want, but if this agreement was annexed to the Bill this would be impossible. We should give consideration, however, to the recommendation of the Committee of another place. Let us allow the Bill to go forward to a Committee of this House without any modifications, allowing that Committee to consider the matter impartially and afresh.
We are anxious that the two councils should voluntarily agree to some amendment of this particular agreement. In fact, there is no secret, as I have said, about our wanting some modification to provide for a percentage, at least, of the containers which go to this site being full. That is the recommendation which the Minister has made, and it is abundantly clear in the second report, from which I think the hon. Member quoted himself.