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Mr. William O'Brien (Normanton) : Unlike the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), I believe that there is a danger to the future of established markets if the Bill is allowed to continue in its present form. The danger arises because we shall be dealing piecemeal with an issue that is targeted at markets instead of looking at the position in total. Other authorities, many of which will be influenced by people wanting to develop markets, could follow the same procedure. The very fact that the application by Redbridge has received the attention of the House sets a precedent for future applications.

If we are to be fair and honest in our judgment, we must consider the position of the market traders. They are small business people who often start from nothing and, in many

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instances, with hard work and some luck develop businesses that can sustain a living for themselves and their families. Market trading is usually a family affair. The only right of a market trader is if he stands his stall in a franchise market. He then has the right, under common law, to be there provided that there is a space available and that he pays the toll.

Under current law, no organisation can set up a market within six and two thirds miles of an existing franchise market. That protects market traders and small business people. It is true that the distance was set by an historic event, but nevertheless there is an inbuilt protection for market traders. The proposed market in Redbridge would be only a short distance from an existing market, so the long-established principles would be broken and there would be serious problems that would be detrimental to the traders at both the existing market and the proposed Redbridge market.

In an intervention I asked the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) whether there had been any consultation. Although I accept that the market traders' organisation is not a regulatory body, at least it looks after the interests of 25,000 or more market traders.

Mr Bendall : Why did not the Food Act 1984 provide the same protection of six and two thirds miles?

Mr. O'Brien : The Act dealt with different circumstances and different principles in the markets. That is why I began my speech by referring to mismatched and piecemeal legislation. We should be considering the whole of the operation of markets and not piecemeal legislation. The 1984 Act was intended to deal with certain matters, as the legislation before us is intended to deal with other matters. That piecemeal consideration of the issue will continue if we agree to this legislation.

The Bill is not necessarily intended to allow the borough of Redbridge to organise a market itself. The hon. Member for Ilford, South said that it had not yet decided whether it would organise the market or whether that would be handed over to a third party. It would be dangerous for the market traders for Redbridge to request permission for a market and then hand it over to a third party. Those traders have experience at the sharp end of private market operators. I have discussed the matter with people who stand market stalls in my constituency, at Ossett and Normanton, and at Wakefield in the neighbouring constituency. They told me how the private operators bring on to the markets their own traders who already have stalls in other markets that are operated by the privateer. That cuts across some of the sacred principles of market traders. The principles involved in the setting of market stalls should have been more fully considered when the Bill was in Committee.

Another important matter is charges for stalls. Unscrupulous operators have been known to ruin a good market by not operating within the broad principles that relate to markets. The Bill does not encourage good practice and it threatens established procedures. The hon. Member for Ilford, South does not agree, but were he to examine the matter in more depth he could conclude only that the Bill is a danger to established markets because it is piecemeal legislation. Franchise markets are an important part of our heritage. For example, the Pontefract market has operated for hundreds of years and goes back to Saxon times.

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If the House agrees to this legislation, the laws on franchise markets will be threatened. Indeed, that threat is targeted on low-income groups because they depend on the markets for reasonable goods at a price they can afford. We must ask why the Bill is even before the House. The market at Romford is less than six miles from the proposed market at Redbridge. There is no real demand for stalls in that area. I note that 250 applications have been made, but there is nothing to show what sort of trade would be carried on by the applicants. I understand that there is no demand and no waiting list for additional stalls in Romford. That market caters for a number of communities in and around the area, including Redbridge. The evidence submitted to the Committee shows that there is no demand for additional market facilities in the area.

In Committee, it was argued that people without cars or access to public transport could not travel to Romford market. If that is a reason for accepting the Bill, what of rural areas? If there is a demand to develop market trading, it is in rural areas where there is a lack of public transport and where fewer people can afford cars. If a reason for accepting the Bill is that people find it difficult to travel six miles to Romford, Conservative Members in particular should be arguing for more market facilities in their constituencies. There is no substance in the argument for an additional market at Redbridge. The same criterion could apply to every rural area and community throughout the country where people are denied the use of public or personal transport.

The letter accompanying the original applications suggests that Redbridge is to be a covered market which will operate six days a week. In my view, that is merely an extension of a shopping development. I suggest that it would be fairer to the local community to make an application for a store comprising 80 stalls, rather than make one under the guise of it being an open market.

Mr. Squire : Has the hon. Gentleman established from his researches if it would make a difference whether such a store had a roof? Is it the concept of open air versus non open air that is in dispute, or do the walls surrounding a store make all the difference?

Mr. O'Brien : The difference would come if the market were handed over to a third party such as Asda, who could develop it not as a market but as a superstore. The difference between the proposed market at Redbridge and the existing one at Romford is that the latter is an established open market, whereas that at Redbridge will be covered. The application is for 80 stalls because it will be a covered market--a supermarket. It is wrong to consider an application for what is ostensibly an open market when it will, in the main, be developed as a supermarket. I hope that we shall receive honest clarification of the real nature of the application.

Mr. Thorne : The proposed site is a car park over which there is a flyover carrying a road over the railway. The site is only covered inasmuch as it is under a flyover.

Mr. O'Brien : My remarks were based on the letter accompanying the application, which refers to a covered market. If, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, the only cover provided is a flyover, it will be different from what we understand as a covered market.

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That is the letter's second misleading statement. The first one was that Romford has three different markets, but the truth is that there is only one market area, comprising the same stalls, but subject to three different Acts of Parliament. For that reason only they are referred to in the supporting letter as three markets, which is most misleading.

I return to my earlier point that, as Redbridge borough council's representatives have given misleading information, the scheme should be more carefully considered. One wonders how many other misleading statements have been made in support of the Bill. I suggest to the Bill's supporters that more consideration should be given before the House agrees to the Bill. The Bill should be deferred so that all the evidence can be analysed properly to see whether it contains any other misleading statements.

I appeal to hon. Members on both sides of the House to support the motion in the names of my hon. Friends the Members for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) and for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley), and of the hon. Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) and for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor), as that would be in the best interests of the House and of the public.

8.17 pm

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch) : I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), and agree strongly with the main thrust of his arguments. To be fair, I must pay tribute also to my next-door neighbour, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert), who is bound by Trappist vows on an occasion such as this. One has heard of the strains and frustrations of office. It is arguable that this evening, one of the more acute forms of frustration is being visited upon my hon. Friend. I only hope that the inadequate way in which I and my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) are dealing with the matter will give him some consolation.

I congratulate also my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne), who is a genuine long-term friend. We encounter one another occasionally at local events, and I always treasure his company.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster said, the royal writ governing Romford market has operated for 742 or 743 years--I forget which. It also covers markets in nearly half of the constituencies represented by right hon. and hon. Members. Those markets are protected by the operation of common law, which is at the very foundation of our rights. The House should consider carefully any application to vary rights that have existed for that length of time before deciding to alter them. In particular, the private Bill procedure is an extraordinary way to vary common law rights. I shall return to that in the ultimate part of my argument.

It is important that I put the precise viewpoint of the London borough of Havering. I do not intend to touch upon the promoters' statement. That would be unfair to the House, as it has already been covered by my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster and for Ilford, South. It is important that there should be no doubt about the attitude of the London borough of Havering, which is directly affected by the Bill.

I shall quote selectively from a letter from the Havering borough secretary which begins, "Dear Robin"--it is a

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very friendly borough, Madam Deputy Speaker ; I should like to think that your part of the country is similar. The letter states : "It would be foolish to pretend that the amendments made in Committee do not limit the potential harm to Romford Market from a rival at Ilford. In particular limiting it to not more than 80 stalls on the one identified site is an improvement on the Bill as originally lodged. Nevertheless, the principle remains that Redbridge are using private legislation to override long established Common Law rights What we put to the committee and suggest is still a sound proposition is that the abolition of rights going back 750 years should not come about as a result of a piecemeal process whereby one piece of private legislation in one area (e.g. Bexley) is succeeded by another (e.g. Redbridge) and so on."

--one might suggest that they are using salami tactics.

The letter continues :

"There is no real difference in the circumstances applicable at Romford Market and those applicable at Common Law markets up and down the Country. Conceding the principle in this Bill must therefore make easier the compulsory extinction of other market rights." That is demonstrated by the fact that the Bexley London Borough Council Act 1987 has been relied on in part as a precedent by Redbridge, although that Act appears to have come about by some agreement between parties.

The letter states :

"The compensation provisions in the Bill have been substantially rewritten as a result of the committee hearing."

I shall return to compensation in a moment, as it would not be fair to read out a long letter to the House. However, the letter continues :

"It might be helpful to remember that the deposited Bill (i.e. the version we petitioned against) allowed for a market to be established by Redbridge anywhere within a circle of just over 3 square miles, and also allowed Redbridge to authorise the establishment by others of a market within that same area ... they could have had two markets unlimited in size and only broadly limited by location." That is one of the reasons why the original objections were so strongly based.

The amended version in which the council is allowed to establish a market which is limited to not more than 80 stalls on the particular site identified by the signed plan is a considerable change from the original Bill.

The letter concludes :

"The petition lodged by Havering in respect of Romford market has produced a transformation in the Bill which it may be thought was unlikely without our opposition."--

there is certainly no reason why it should have been changed. "This emphasises the danger of launching into private legislation to take away established rights of another body and you might think Parliament could still be urged to send Redbridge away to think again about whether they really need powers of this kind."

The letter was signed by the borough secretary and solicitor. I mentioned that the terms are changed so that the market will consist of 80 stalls on an identified site. I do not know whether 80 is the right figure. The House will note that I have tabled an amendment on the matter.

On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Ms. Walley), speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, referred to the well reported divisions within the majority group on Redbridge council. As a former council leader, I confess that the news that there could be divisions in local authority groups comes as something less than a shattering surprise. I held the job for three years and I would have been surprised to hear that my council was

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united about anything--except possibly the name of the local authority, and even then there was probably a rebel fringe moving an amendment.

I recall that it was suggested that up to one third of the majority group had objected to the Bill as originally deposited. We now have a very different Bill which imposes upon the stallholders in the putative market in Redbridge an absolute responsibility to pay sums of money and, as I have already said, it limits the number of stalls.

I do not have to go back very far to remember that quarrels broke out in my council group on far smaller issues. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South will comment on whether the revised Bill now has a clear, obvious and unambiguous commitment from Redbridge council, and whether it is aware of the dangers that have been highlighted this evening and recognises that they should take it away and think again, as the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) suggested.

Obviously, Havering welcomes the fact that, although the original Bill would apply compensation to cases where the right was conferred by statute or royal charter, that has now been deleted so that any legitimate claim can be considered. I welcome the fact that the Bill now refers to 10 per cent. of net profit, although I shall return to that in a moment. Originally, all or some of the rights created in the Bill could have been transferred or disposed of, but now no transfer or disposal can take effect without the consent of Redbridge council. None of that could have happened without the original objection, but equally Havering's central objection still remains. I now refer to an important point on compensation. Clause 4 (b) (i) states :

"The Director of Finance of the London Borough of Redbridge, acting as an expert and not as an arbitrator, shall within six months after the end of each financial year of the market's undertaking certify the amount of net profit calculated in accordance with paragraph (a)(i) above, and shall send copies of the certificate to the market operator and to the person entitled to receive compensation under that paragraph."

I highlight that for several reasons. I speak as a chartered accountant. I do not usually confess that in public, because it tends to turn people against me--erstwhile friends walk away and decide not to talk to me again- -but it means that I have had some experience of drawing up accounts, looking at other people's accounts and, above all, completing accounts from incomplete records.

I freely confess that I have never audited a set of market traders' accounts, but I have carried out the audits of many similar undertakings. I am genuinely concerned about how that will effectively be carried out. Let me make it clear that that is no reflection on the director of finance in the London borough of Redbridge, who I am sure is a well qualified and good representative of the accountancy profession.

Let us think about it for a moment. What evidence will he have for purchases? I doubt whether there will be invoices. My experience of the sort of business undertakings we are talking about strongly suggests that the chances of many invoices being available for the purchases by the market trader are very slight indeed. We shall be relying upon approximations, because much of the business is not accompanied by invoices.

Mr. Thorne : Is my hon. Friend being misled, in that he has not read the Bill? Clause 4(2)(a)(i) contains the words

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"in each year ten per cent. of the net profit accruing to any person holding a market".

It does not say "market stall" : it says "market".

Mr. Squire : If I have got the wrong end of the stick in that respect, perhaps, either now or in winding up, my hon. Friend will clarify the point. In other words, is it a fixed, finite, easily established figure? If it is, I wonder why it is necessary for the director of finance to verify it. If, as I fear, it is not but needs considerable assessment, I am a little concerned.

Since I have presented one side, and a good accountant always tries to present both sides of any case, the obvious other side is the takings. If my theory is right, if the problems of accounting for expenses are there, I judge that the problems of accounting for takings will be even more significant. I suspect that the average inspector of taxes would be the first to agree with that statement. The thought occurs to me that, if the assessment is based on the actual profit of the market traders, presumably it could also be based on their audited accounts, which would have been agreed, so that there would be no great difficulty.

These are major points, because we are talking about compensation. So far, people have said that this is a considerable improvement, and they welcome it as against what was originally proposed. But from where I am standing at the moment, it seems to me that that could be 10 per cent. of very little, which, I need hardly remind the House, is even less. I would appreciate some clarification from the sponsor of the Bill at some appropriate time.

Mr. Pike : The hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) said that the markets would be in competition for only three days a week, since Redbridge would be doing six days and Havering only three. But is it not true that trading on the three days when Havering traders were in competition would be affected, because people go to a market usually once a week and, if they were able to do so on a different day, that would obviously have an impact within Havering?

Mr. Squire : The hon. Gentleman, who is on a Select Committee with me, where we usually discuss matters relating to the environment, has made a very good, clear point. Obviously, there is some limit to the amount of money that people will spend in a particular week or other period, and if they have already spent it in one market, say in Redbridge, they cannot spend it a second time--something that even Governments have learnt over the years.

I want to turn now to a letter from the leader of Redbridge council, John Lovell, who I am sure is a very good Conservative and does a very good job. This letter was addressed not to me but to one of my hon. Friends, and it has come into my possession. I know that it is open to anyone to write to any or all right hon. and hon. Members, but I wonder whether there is any change in this in the private Bill procedure. Very strict procedures are laid down, for instance, requiring the promoters to supply a statement, which has to go to all hon. Members. I am sure that you will confirm that, Madam Deputy Speaker.

A selective statement has been sent out by the leader of Redbridge council, which I have not received. I see that my silent hon. Friend the Member for Romford indicates that he too has not received a copy of this letter, in which case

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he may be very surprised at some of the contents. I have no way of knowing how many people have received the letter. Perhaps all other hon. Members present have received it, in which case they may be rather bored if I highlight some of its contents, but it may be that they too have been the victim of the selective amnesia of the leader of Redbridge council. I do not even know, Madam Deputy Speaker, whether he managed to include you. We draw a veil over that. In the third paragraph of his letter, Mr. Lovell writes : "We are obliged to do this because our neighbouring Borough of Havering enjoys the monopoly protection of an ancient Royal Writ which prevents us from affording shoppers in Redbridge the choice they enjoy elsewhere in the country as a matter of right." The letter could have pointed out the 288 constituencies we have already mentioned, where the same market rights exist. Whether the letter is saying that we should include all the 288 or whether we are only threatening the one is not clear, but the point I want to take up concerns the words "monopoly protection."

What is a monopoly in this context? There are some 300 traders--we have conceded this--who are competing not only among themselves in Romford but also against the shops and stores in Romford. That is scarcely the standard definition of a monopoly. There is a very active retail trade there. If a hypermarket were to be created, since it is unusual to create more than one hypermarket in an area, would that be a monopoly position or would one say that it was competing with other forms of retail trade? I would argue that the word "monopoly" in this case is misused.

The second point about the letter is even more important. It says :

"You may also have received correspondence from the National Market Traders Federation seeking support for the Havering case. The allegation that we, as promoters of the Redbridge Bill, are weakening the rights of street traders is far from the truth--Redbridge in effect seeks an expansion of open market trading and it is Havering relying on its ancient and anachronistic Writ, who is denying the freedom of choice and opportunity which Redbridge seeks." The only comment made about the letter from the National Market Traders Federation is in the quotation about this Bill weakening the rights of street traders. That is the only point picked up in this criticism.

Many people may have had the letter from the federation and lost it or not seen it ; or it may not have reached them, because these things happen in this place, and they may think that this was not much of an objection. But if they were to read what the federation said they would find that it was quite a bit more than the leader implies.

Mr. Bendall : I am not sure what my hon. Friend is trying to prove. Clearly, the National Market Traders Federation letter came some time ago. It was totally against. It was lobbying in a fair way, so I do not see why other people should not lobby.

Mr. Squire : I fully accept what my hon. Friend says. The act of lobbying is a legitimate and almost ever-present part of the proceedings of the House. He says that the original letter came some time ago. Many hon. Members receiving this letter from the leader of Redbridge council might have thought that the only complaint was about a weakening of the rights of street traders. It goes into considerable detail and quite simply says--I will just read their concluding sentence or two.

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Mr. Bendall : I received a letter a few days ago from the National Market Traders Federation asking how I intended to vote and reminding me of its previous letter.

Mr. Squire : My post bag may have been even more selective, because I have not received that letter. It appears that a sustained attack has been launched upon me.

I shall read the concluding part of a letter from the National Market Traders Federation, which says :

"The Federation"--

the National Market Traders Federation--

"is opposed to the Bill as it believes it would set a dangerous precedent if a Private Bill was allowed to take away common law rights. This could pave the way for another Private Bill that could remove the common law rights of traders, which, with the exception of the few traders who have tenancies, are the only protection that traders have."

The Federation of Street Traders Union--I am delighted to announce to the House that I have received this letter--underlines that message. It says :

"Market traders do not enjoy statutory rights, their only rights being derived from common law. They are concerned that the Redbridge Bill is an attack on common law rights of market franchise owners and thus weakens the few rights that market traders have."

If the Bill is a precursor of future legislation, changes will be made in other constituencies. I have the list of the 285 constituencies that are affected, but I do not propose to read out the names of the hon. Members concerned. I note that both Front Bench spokesmen and you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have markets in their constituencies. They will therefore be listening intently to the arguments being deployed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), who is regarded as all-powerful by my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman), is not present tonight, but he also has a market in his constituency. Most important, given my past, my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who might be assumed to be a clear believer in market principles- -in this context, I mean the other market principles--represents the attractive and delightful area of Kingston upon Thames, where I had the privilege of being educated. If he were present, he would be listening carefully for any precedent being created to destroy the lovely and cherished market in Kingston.

In 1891, the Royal Commission set up by the then Government recommended the abolition of rules for the protection of market rights. For whatever reason, successive Governments and Parliaments have not seen fit to act on that recommendation. On the contrary, the most recent legislation, the Food Act 1984, expressly preserved the rights of protection against rival markets, even when those rival markets are set up by local authorities under statutory powers. Why have Governments not seen fit to act on that recommendation? It cannot be because of insufficient time. Have no past Governments been anxious to pursue a market-based economy? I can think of one or two that have. Why have they not introduced legislation? Perhaps it is because of a lack of supply side zeal. Nothing restrained the Government from introducing a Bill on Sunday trading, which was not given a Second Reading. The Government were seeking to tackle what many people regard as an anomaly. Time was found for that legislation, so why could not previous Governments introduce legislation on markets?

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We must assume that successive Ministers considered this, because people would have said to them "This is anachronistic, with its rules on six and two thirds miles, and so on." I suspect that the Government said, "Whatever changes we make, we shall face enormous problems of compensation, of measuring the loss that will be suffered by market traders and the benefit will be limited, even if we take the purest free market principles."

What Government and Parliament refused to do, or decided was not necessary, is being accomplished by a series of little Bills. First, there was the Bexley London Borough Council Bill, and now we have the Redbridge London Borough Council Bill. That should concern all hon. Members, because it cannot be the way to achieve logical legislation. The salami approach, by which bits of legislation are sliced away, makes no sense. We know from correspondence that such action is unpopular with market traders. If we must make changes, it should be by comprehensive reform in a public Bill, not by private legislation.

8.48 pm

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : I intend to speak only briefly because the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) and my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) made many of the points that I would have made. I must make it clear that I hold no brief for Havering or Redbridge. I know little about them, so I cannot be biased in favour of one or the other.

There is a principle in the Bill that threatens other charter markets, one of which is in Burnley. The 284 authorities must be concerned about the methods being used to overcome common law. It is not sufficient for the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) to say that there will be other private Bills. Private legislation is not the way to make these changes.

The charter for the market in Burnley was granted in 1264, and for the fair in 1265. Those dates are inscribed on the wall of the council chamber as notable and historic features in the development of the borough. Originally, the market was held on the doorstep of the church. Burnley was not recorded in the Domesday Book, but two centuries later it flourished around the market.

The hon. Member for Ilford, South dismissed the

six-and-two-thirds-mile rule. He must recognise that many towns developed that distance apart, or slightly more, so that a market could be established in them. The pattern of development in many parts of this country was controlled indirectly by that early form of town planning. We should not disregard some of our important historic links.

Perhaps we should reconsider the correctness of the

six-and-two-thirds-mile separation. If a sensible proposal to change the distance were introduced, I would not necessarily be rigidly opposed to it. But many factors would have to be considered, should such a change be thought necessary, and the implications would involve local people, market traders, authorities with and without markets in their areas and, of course, the views of hon. Members in all parts of the House.

We have been told that 98 years ago Parliament considered whether a change was necessary to the six-and-two-thirds-mile rule, and apparently it was decided to maintain the status quo. Few of us are likely to be here 98 years from now should further changes be proposed then.

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Many authorities have invested in markets in their areas. My local authority invested heavily in the 1960s in the indoor and outdoor markets in the area, and it is intended further to upgrade the outdoor market. Most of the outdoor market is already under cover, mainly because of the weather. My area is close to the Pennines, so we get more rain than areas further south. Genuine worries exist and we should not allow the Bill to proceed in its present form at this stage.

The material put out by the promoters did not deal with the charter conditions and various issues affecting other local authorities. The promoters and Redbridge council must have been aware for some time that such matters have led to the Bill being delayed. I find it surprising, therefore, that they did not address such issues. Not knowing the areas involved and having read the material as an independent and neutral observer, I envisaged three separate market sites, not three different markets operating on different days on the same site. Whether the material that I read was intentionally misleading I do not know, but most people reading it would have got an incorrect view from what was stated.

It is essential that people, especially hon. Members, should have a thorough understanding of what is proposed. After all, having read it, some hon. Members may have decided not to attend tonight's debate, imagining that Havering has three different markets operating on three different sites, believing that there is no problem.

Mr. Squire : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that hon. Members have been known to vote without hearing the balance of the argument and have relied simply on a piece of paper that they have been sent? The point that the hon. Gentleman makes is overwhelmingly valid in a case such as this, when we have a near empty House.

Mr. Pike : The hon. Gentleman is right. That is why I read what private Bills are about, particularly if they concern an area of the country with which I am not familiar. Many private Bills relate to particular areas and issues, the details of which are not known nationally. There are, in those cases, only two ways for hon. Members to know what is proposed. One is to read the literature put out by the promoters and others who are interested in the matter, and in that case we depend on the information being correct and not misleading, intentionally or inadvertently. The second way is to come into the Chamber and listen to the debate.

Some hon. Members may have been influenced by the literature into thinking that Havering has three different markets operating in different parts of the borough, and have reached a view about the Bill on that basis. Issues of principle are involved here. I wish Redbridge no harm. I would be happy to see most of the Bill proceed and the proposed development and investment take place in that borough. However, I have doubts about certain aspects of the measure. If they remain in the Bill, I shall feel it necessary to oppose its passage at this stage.

Mr. Thorne : With the leave of the House, I shall reply to some of the points that have been made.

The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) mentioned the importance of franchise markets, and I agree with him. But Food Act 1984 markets are important

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as well. They have played an important part in our shopping life since being introduced and they are to be encouraged.

The hon. Gentleman referred to low-income groups. Pensioners, who now have bus passes, still prefer to shop locally if they can. If he were to ask his constituents whether they preferred to shop in the vicinity of their homes or catch a bus and travel perhaps five and a half miles, he would find that, especially in later life, they preferred to shop locally. It is the desire of my local authority that they should be able to do so.

There is no intention of excluding the National Market Traders Federation from the site. On the other hand, there is no intention to give them a monopoly over it. I trust that the hon. Member for Normanton was not proposing that such a monopoly should exist. This is not a case for a closed shop.

I have referred previously to the location of the site. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not aware that Romford market has both an open and covered section. Neither Asda nor any other group has taken over the covered section of Romford market. This is often called "Rumford" market, which I believe is an old and original spelling of the word "Romford".

The hon. Member for Normanton also underrates my local authority and our colleagues on the Opposed Private Bill Committee because they certainly would not allow a situation to arise where a private contractor was able to introduce only his friends and colleagues into the market. I assure him that the London borough of Redbridge would be most assiduous in ensuring that it was kept open to all respectable people and that in any contract entered into by an operator--if that were the way in which it was proposed to operate the market--it would make sure that to do otherwise would be a breach of the contract, which would thereby be terminated. I have no hesitation in believing that that would not be allowed to happen. Our colleagues considered the matter in some detail ; they were advised by counsel who were instructed by both the councils involved, and they were a good judge of the ultimate result.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Squire) on his speech. He said that his friends tended to ostracise him when they learned that he was a chartered accountant. That could, of course, be the reason why he does not receive as much correspondence as the rest of us. He must have been struck off the lists that give us so much correspondence from the National Market Traders Federation and others on this issue. I am sorry that he was left out, but he has only to ask and he will always be kept fully informed.

I want especially to pick up one of my hon. Friend's points. There have been Bills before the House to vary the distance of six and two thirds miles and that is the right way to proceed. I do not believe that a blanket cover is necessarily the right answer. Each case should be dealt with on its merits, as has happened in this case. Negotiation is a matter on which two parties must agree. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch is aware of this, but I have tried hard to encourage negotiations to take place between his local authority and mine, and I have not been as successful as I should have wished. I have even pursued the point that the negotiations should take place in front of the six Members of Parliament involved, with the leaders and chief officers of the two authorities. Unfortunately, that suggestion has been turned down.

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