Examination of witnesses (Questions 180
THURSDAY 7 MARCH 2001
QUIN and MR
180. The Mayor has not replied to any of the
letters the Authority has written, and any attempt to get anybody
from the Mayor's office to visit the market has failed. They just
do not turn up or cancel at the last minute. Can you seize his
attention in some manner on behalf of the Authority?
(Ms Quin) Certainly if the Authority wants us to take
an initiative in this area, we are open to doing so.
181. You might get a bunch of flowers from the
flower market if you were to do just that.
(Ms Quin) I already have one.
182. Can I just conclude by asking are you content
with the fact that there is a market-based activity on the current
site at Nine Elms? There are all kinds of formulations as to whether
in fact you could uplift Covent Garden and put it somewhere else.
Are you content that this is the right thing to be doing at that
(Ms Quin) Yes. I think the point that the Chairman
made about the location of the market, particularly with regard
to the catering trade in the West End, is a very sound one, and
certainly when I look at that market in comparison to other markets,
I think that it is in a good location.
183. I would like to know whether you think
there is an important and precedent-setting application, the one
which I was referring to, which would open up meat and poultry
products into the market. I would be inclined, and others would
be inclined to see this as being setting precedent and being very
important to possible diversification. Is that the way it is regarded
(Ms Quin) It is regarded as an important issue. However,
because of the changing nature of trade and, for example, the
growth in e-business and so forth, I do not think it is the only
significant element in diversification.
184. Could you just explain a little bit more
the response you gave to me earlier in which you seemed to imply
that it might not be within MAFF's powers to set a timescale for
the making of a decision, or did I misunderstand you?
(Ms Quin) To sell the market as a going concern?
185. No, to say to the Corporation, "We
want your objections in by this date, and if you do not get it
in by then we are going to make the decision without taking them
into account." You implied that the Minister could not lay
down a timescale.
(Ms Quin) That is my understanding. I will reflect
on this question, and if I feel in the light of my earlier reply
that I would rather refine that, I will certainly write to the
Committee, but I do not know of any power that MAFF has to legally
oblige the Corporation to reply by a given deadline.
186. Perhaps you could just make a decision
and grant a licence.
(Ms Quin) We could, but that would certainly, in my
view, take us into the territory of legal disputes. We would then
obviously need to get some very detailed legal advice as to how
much the provisions in the ancient statutes that we were talking
about before might be affected by other more recent legislation,
for example, competition legislation, either domestically or at
European Union level. That would be quite a complex legal route
to go down. Given that I have talked about the parallel process
of trying to encourage dialogue between the different markets,
it might complicate that process as well. If I am being open with
you in the replies, we want to see the best way forward in terms
of minimising conflict but also, as MAFF, enabling Covent Garden
Market to have a good future. In that respect, I welcome the fact
that the Minister did have a discussion with representatives of
the different London markets. I also, of course, welcome what
the Chairman said in terms of the starting up again of the Association
of London Markets, which he himself is chairing. I think that
such fora are useful in providing avenues for dialogue. On the
whole, I prefer that to complex and perhaps long time-consuming
legal wrangles. Nonetheless, depending on how the Corporation
of London respond, we will ourselves also obviously be able to
commission legal advice.
187. In your memorandum, you say that the Corporation's
objections will be one of the factors that the Minister will take
into account. Are there any other factors which have not already
been raised in this session?
(Ms Quin) No. They are basically the ones that I referred
to. There are the ancient statutes, but there is also other more
up-to-date legislation, and how those things relate to each other,
and also the other initiatives about trying to ensure some cooperation
and coordination across London markets.
188. The High Court recently ruled that the
European Convention on Human Rights cast doubt upon whether the
Secretary of State for the Environment should be the ultimate
authority in planning decisions. You have to make a decision as
to whether or not you will permit some new activities in the marketplace.
If that happens, that will have an impact upon the revenues the
market generates, and MAFF is the beneficiary of those revenues.
Is it right that MAFF should therefore be taking a decision on
cases in which it has a financial interest? Would that stand up
to the European Convention on Human Rights on the analogy of planning?
(Ms Quin) I am not aware of a Human Rights problem
in relation to that. It is certainly not being flagged up to me
by our legal services. I think it is unlikely. I think the way
that that system operates has been in existence for some considerable
time without challenge.
189. But the incorporation of the European Convention
is new and might have sparked a whole new set of case law in Britain.
(Ms Quin) Incorporation into our national legal system,
yes, but the European Convention has always been an approach which
potentially people adversely affected by something have been able
190. If I were advising the Corporation, which
I am notand I have not been put up by the Corporation eitherI
would doubt whether MAFF were not in an invidious position in
being the judge on an issue from which it is set to benefit.
(Ms Quin) That is true, although the Corporation's
own statutes were established well before the Human Rights legislation
Chairman: I leave it as a subject of debate.
191. Governments also benefit from their legislation.
(Ms Quin) I do not think the position has changed
legally, because if it is possible to pursue it, it would have
been possible even before incorporation.
192. Talking of the relationship between MAFF
and the Market Authority, one of the issues that has not been
addressed yet is other uses of the site other than a market use.
Clearly the local authority has a huge development area there,
not just the site of the Covent Garden Market but also the old
Battersea Power Station and so on. Has no-one as yet done any
work in terms of looking at the enterprise potential of that sitekeeping
the market but looking at what other enterprise could be brought
on to the market site or the related sites?
(Ms Quin) My understanding is that the Borough Council
itself has looked at this issue, quite understandably, given the
potential of the power station enterprise and the effect on the
area as a whole, including the effect on Covent Garden. My understanding
is that the Borough Council sees the continued existence of the
market as contributing to their overall strategy for the area.
193. Unless I misread lots of the correspondence
and submissions, I suppose I would characterise what seems to
be going on as everybody waiting for somebody else to take the
lead. Somebody has to break this impasse. You have the Council,
you have the Authority, you have MAFF, you have the Corporation,
and you have the other markets. Everybody is waiting for somebody
to make a move, and presumably the first response would be "Let's
block it", because the objectives seem to be preventing anyone
else taking the initiative. Somebody has to break through this
(Ms Quin) Firstly, I think that as far as MAFF is
concerned, we did take the initiative, and a very welcome one,
in announcing the change of policy. This is an important point,
it seems to me. As far as MAFF is concerned, we took an initiative
with the change of policy and the Minister also convened a meeting
of representatives of different London markets, so we have shown
that we are willing to be engaged in this process. But, of course,
it is true to say that there are many other actors involved in
the process, and no doubt they are weighing up their own future
strategy, particularly in terms of London markets, as to how much
is competition and how much is cooperation and coordination. With
the best will in the world, while I would like to see things move
along in a satisfactory way in terms of Covent Garden Market and
indeed in terms of the situation of London as a whole, MAFF does
not have the primary responsibility to deal with that wider issue.
But I believe strongly that we have signalled our willingness
to be engaged in the process.
194. We have already touched on the legalities
of this. Clearly major legal problems could arise. It is a lawyer's
breakfast. They would love the possibility of this getting into
the courts. It could be there for years if it is not handled correctly.
How much of a problem is that? Clearly you have taken advice already,
though not detailed advice. There is a temptation to do nothing,
because if you do something, somebody is immediately going to
put an injunction on somebody else about what rights you have
to be handling this at all.
(Ms Quin) I do not think there is an incentive to
do nothing and, indeed, insofar as MAFF is concerned we have been
taking the initiatives that I have outlined to you. However, if
you say, "Would you prefer to avoid a lawyer's breakfast?"
I think anybody would want to avoid a lawyer's breakfast particularly
if that breakfast extends to an all-day meal.
195. Apart from a lawyer.
(Ms Quin) Apart from a lawyer, yes. It is true there
are a lot of legal aspects to this, nonetheless, we have a commitment
to press ahead with legislation in the way that we have described
and it certainly does make sense for dialogue to be facilitated
and therefore again I welcome the initiative the Minister took
and also the renewal of the Association of London Markets because
I think that does at least offer a forum in which these issues
can be addressed.
196. It is an observation but I would hope you
would respond to it to take up Dr Turner's point about forcing
the objection from the Corporation. Clearly MAFF could just take
the initiative and say, "We are going to force this issue,
we are going to ignore these threshold arguments about where one
market is in relation to another and what one market does in relation
to another because under the Government's modernisation agenda
we are out of the 15th Century now and have at least got to the
19th Century." I hope I am not putting you in an impossible
position but, as somebody said earlier, this has got to drive
us on even if it means taking the legal threat off.
(Ms Quin) I think we have taken initiatives along
the way, as I have described. We cannot ignore even very old laws
and therefore we do have to take
197. These are very old laws.
(Ms Quin) Yes, laws can be old laws but if they have
not been repealed they still have a legal force. What I did say,
however, in answer to George was that we are obviously getting
advice about how much the ancient laws also inter-relate with
much more up-to-date laws on competition and so on. These are
complicated issues and if the avenues for dialogue that I have
described can work I think personally that that is a better way
198. It sometimes takes you more than a day
to travel six and two-thirds miles in London like last Monday
(Ms Quin) I think somebody said that six and two thirds
miles probably takes longer today than it did in the 14th Century.
199. If I can ask you to portray the relationship
between MAFF and the Market Authority not in terms of whether
they are nice people but on a day-to-day basis what is the relationship,
and on a more strategic basis what is the relationship between
the Department and the Authority?
(Ms Quin) Of course, the relationship is very good
and I say this in order to at least provide some comfort to those
who are sitting behind me. The day-to-day relationship, I believe,
is excellent, but the statutory relationship between MAFF and
the Authority was covered very much in the Memorandum that we
sent to the Committee. The Authority does run its affairs itself
on a day-to-day basis but obviously the Covent Garden Acts do
impose some of the framework and indeed some of the constraints
that we have discussed to some extent this morning with regard
to the treatment of surplus revenue investments and so on. Obviously
the Market Authority submits its Report and Accounts and that
has to be approved by us and there are the arrangements which
I know you are all familiar with in terms of the appointment of
the Chairman and the members of the Authority, but in terms of
the working relationship between MAFF and the Authority that seems
to work very well. We certainly have not come across problems
in terms of the way that the Acts work at present in a practical
sense, and they certainly have not hampered dialogue between either
Ministers and officials at MAFF on the one hand and the management
and Board of the Authority on the other.