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City Of London (Various Powers) Bill (By Order)

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

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Order for consideration, as amended, read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill, as amended, be now considered.

9.11 p.m.

I shall not need to detain the House very long. First, I should explain that I am speaking because my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke), who has been in charge of the Bill and has conducted it so effectively throughout the year, has been translated to the post of Government Whip, a position in which we are pleased to see him. Nevertheless, this year, being the Master of the Guild of Freemen of the City of London, I am delighted to stand humbly in his place.

The Bill received a Second Reading on 6 March when it was fully and seriously debated by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Having read the debate, but not having taken part in it, I can say that we had a most helpful discussion in every way. The Bill received an unopposed Second Reading. No doubt that was because of the admirably lucid speech by my hon. Friend—a speech which was praised by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

The Bill then went into Committee where again it was carefully considered. The detail of the Bill was investigated throughout the six days of the Committee stage. However, apart from some drafting amendments, the Bill emerged from the Committee's scrutiny virtually intact. The Committee complimented the petitioners on the way in which the Bill had been presented and in particular on the way in which ecological interests, which concerned a number of hon. Members, had been safeguarded.

I do not need to go over the purposes of the Bill because they have already been fully debated. I would make only two observations which are of great interest to me. The first is that the Bill helps among other things tourism which is immensely important for this country in general and for London in particular. Therefore, it is supported by the London Tourist Board.

The other observation concerns a matter which was stoutly debated—the development of the M25. We all have our own views about the M25, but I think that I am entitled to claim that its development is necessary. Therefore, the Bill, which has a small contribution to make to it, affects areas beyond the boundaries of the City of London.

For example, Harrow has great traffic problems. I asked the Minister of Transport in the Labour Government what effect the development and building of the M25 would have on the flow of traffic in the town of Harrow. I was told authoritatively by my right hon. Friend's predecessor that it would reduce the traffic flow in Harrow by 10 per cent. That is one example showing why the M25 is important and the Bill make a vital, though small, contribution to it.

I need do no more than commend the Bill and ask that it be considered.

I want to raise two matters concerning the Bill. First, I should like an assurance on clause 12 relating to the development of the new Billingsgate market which is to move to West Ham. My concern is to ensure that the site of the old Billingsgate market is not developed until the archaeological community has had the opportunity of digging the site on a proper basis for a good length of time.

I say that for a very specific reason. The site is regarded by the archaeological community as possibly holding within it very important Roman and medieval buildings which underlie the existing Billingsgate market. It is quite clear that, if development is allowed to take place furiously once the existing market is transferred, without archaeological investigation taking place, we may lose very considerable finds of international interest that might otherwise be discovered.

I hope that we can have an assurance from the sponsors of the Bill that no such rapid development is intended, and that, if there is the opportunity for achaeological digging on the site, it will be carried out properly through the department of urban archaeology at the Museum of London, because I believe that that is the best way for it to be done.

Clause 18 relates to museum charges. I should like to know whether the provisions in the clause relate to the operation of general museum charges in the City of London, as distinct from charges for particular exhibitions of note held from time to time at museums in the City of London. I would be greatly concerned—as would many Labour Members—if it appeared that private legislation was being used to introduce into the museums on a general basis the principle of admission charges.

That proposition has been resisted by Labour Members for a good many years. It was resisted when the Conservative Government introduced it in 1971. It would be tragic if we were to accept the Bill this evening on the basis that clause 18 related simply to particular exhibitions when in fact it related to the generality of museum charges. If that were to be the case, Labour Members would take a quite different view of the Bill as a whole, and might wish to reconsider their position. I hope, therefore, that we shall have a really specific and firm assurance from the sponsors of the Bill that that is not intended.

The Bill deals with a number of issues with which I do not wish to concern myself at any great length this evening. I agree with both points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race). It is important for us, living in a country in which we have the good fortune to have a great archaeological heritage, that we should take every possible step to see that it is not in any way destroyed. Proper opportunity should be given for a full examination to be made before any development takes place on a site as important as Billingsgate Market.

I also agree with what my hon. Friend said about museum charges. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Miss Richardson) and I raised the very same issue on Second Reading. Accordingly, I would like to add my voice to the remarks made by my hon. Friend on charges.

The real reason why I have risen to my feet this evening is that I am still concerned about part II of the Bill, which deals with Epping Forest. This section arises from the proposals for the construction of the M25 motorway through the forest. This inevitably means that part of this unique area will be buried under road works. The decision to construct the M25 over this particular terrain must cause great concern to those who have a love for the forest.

We discussed this issue at an earlier stage and hon. Members expressed their views. As was pointed out then, the forest was saved for posterity only as a result of a great battle which was mounted by a number of Victorians and the corporation of the City of London. During the twentieth century the forest might well have died the death of a thousand cuts as a result of the many proposals for housing and road schemes put forward, even since the end of the second world war.

It is extremely important that all who have a love for the forest should lose no opportunity to emphasise the need carefully to scrutinise all further proposals for road works, housing or any other form of development which may encroach upon it. For this reason, my hon. Friend the Member for Barking and I objected to the Bill at an earlier stage, as a result of which it had a Second Reading debate and hon. Members were able at that stage to express their points of view on the matter.

Since that time the Bill has been carefully considered by the Committee. I understand that in Committee it was suggested that no further road-works should be permitted within the forest. I believe that I am correct in saying that the Nature Conservancy Council has also expressed its view on this matter. Some observers of the Committee stage thought that the opinion was being expressed that all further road works would be prevented from encroaching on the forest. Since that time, however, it has become clear that the corporation interprets this view as applying only to road works connected with the M25 motorway.

I have great respect for the position that has been adopted by the corporation over the years in seeking to preserve the forest, and I have expressed my view on this matter on more than one occasion in the House. Once again, I say that the corporation has a very honourable record. None the less, it is important that we should again press very strongly for clarification on this issue. Does the corporation consider that further road works unconnected with the M25 motorway could be favourably considered?

I recognise that there may be small works which require to be carried out from time to time. But if at any time in the near or distant future road works of a magnitude comparable with those now proposed in connection with the M25 motorway were put forward, that would be a great blow to the forest. If road-works of considerable magnitude are proposed and accepted in the future the forest will be in danger of being destroyed or changed beyond recognition.

I accept that there is a need for roads. All of us use roads, and it is somewhat hypocritical to suggest that those roads ought to go elsewhere. I appreciate that there is a serious problem here. However, we must ask what the corporation's attitude is likely to be in the event of future proposals for extensive road works within the terrain of the forest. I very must hope that we shall be reassured on this issue.

Much of the forest has gone under concrete over the last few years. Although other areas of land have in certain cases been added in compensation, any further road works would constitute very serious damage indeed. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) will reply to this point. I trust we shall have some reassurances. Whether or not it is possible to be reassured on this occasion, I want to place on record the fact that there are many hon. Members on both sides who would feel betrayed if, following the construction of the M25, other road works were proposed in a few years' time which destroyed anything like the same area which will be destroyed by the M25.

I hope that those who may consider these matters in the future will recognise that if roads or other developments are proposed some way must be found of meeting the needs they seek to serve outside Epping Forest if this unique area is to be preserved—for posterity, for recreational and other purposes—in the manner in which our predecessors in the nineteenth century intended. Many of us believe that their attitude represented considerable wisdom on their part.

I intervene very briefly. I confirm what my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) said. At one point I was a little worried because I thought he might ask me to stop supporting the M25. As someone who has lived in my area for a long time, he knows the problems that we face in trying to get rid of the juggernauts that pass through the area.

When I saw the Minister arrive I thought that we had gone back to Tuesday night. I chided him then for failing to intervene in the row in which I am involved between the GLC, the Hackney borough council and the City of London corporation over the decision to close Tower Bridge to juggernauts, which has resulted in Graham Road in my constituency becoming a thoroughfare for lorries 24 hours a day.

I intervene now to say "Thank you" to the officials of the City of London corporation who were kind enough to meet me today. I am sure that they found me a most abrasive and unhappy sort of fellow, but they discussed the matter with great care and patience. As a result, a meeting has been arranged for next week, and I should like to place on record the fact that they were most kind and immediately responded to my invitation to discuss whether there was any way in which we could find a solution. I hope that next Wednesday's meeting will perhaps result in some sort of solution.

I know that the Minister said that he could not be involved, but I believe that a number of issues will arise at that meeting in respect of which his help may be needed. The GLC has willingly agreed to attend that meeting together with the City corporation and the Hackney borough council as well as the police forces of both the Metropolitan Police and the City of London. Therefore, we should have a meeting of some standing which may arrive at some decision. However, if we do get a little bogged down, perhaps the Minister will consider meeting a deputation in order to iron out some of the problems that may arise.

I am a little concerned about clause 21. I am not in favour of the City of London police—that force has so many policemen per square inch that it is quite impossible. Perhaps the Minister would consider introducing a loan scheme for Hackney where we have an insufficient number of policemen. Perhaps a twinning between the City police and the Hackney police might get something done. The City of London has managed to stop all parking in the city and now we have a hell of a job in Hackney because people are parking there. Perhaps the City police could help us to achieve what they have already achieved in one square mile.

9.30 p.m.

I rise to give the view of the Government on this Bill, and particularly that of my own Department. This means that I shall not, on this occasion, debate museum charges. I shall leave that to the sponsor of the Bill. I shall also leave the matter of the police in the City and in Hackney to the Home Secretary and the sponsor.

My Department's interest is in part II of the Bill which is being put forward in order to enable the completion of part of the M25. The Government are grateful to the sponsors of the Bill, my hon. Friends the Members for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) and for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), for having promoted it and assisted its passage. The powers contained in the measure will enable the completion of a fairly vital part of the M25 orbital route around London.

I reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central and other Members who have a constituency interest in the M25 that it remains the highest priority in the Government's road programme and we intend to continue it as quickly as possible. It will be an orbital route around London which will enable traffic, particularly from the Midlands and the North, to find a way around London to Tilbury or the Channel ports on the south coast without adding further to the complications in the centre of the capital. It will also act as a general distributor road linking up the various radial routes out of London and enabling motorists to choose routes which avoid the centre. Perhaps the most important aspect is that it will provide relief for local roads that are particularly congested on the outskirts of London.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central stressed the importance of this road to his constituency and, looking around the Chamber, I would say that my hon. Friends the Members for Bexley-heath (Mr. Townsend) and Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) and the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown) can look forward to a reduction in heavy traffic of about 10 per cent. in most cases.

It is the heavy lorry traffic in particular that we expect to be diverted on to the M25. Although in the past I have declined to become involved in the arguments about the local road programmes in Graham Road and Dalston Lane, because they are not the responsibility of the Ministry, the construction of the M25 is expected to reduce the traffic in that locality by between 5 and 10 per cent.

My hon. Friend's predecessor also pointed out that this M25 was a priority road. Yet for years and years minority groups have successfully held up its construction. Can he really assure us that something is about to happen and that this time it will be completed?

It is quite right that we should go through the proper procedures. I am not at all anxious to start shortening or avoiding the process of public inquiries which allow people with particular points to make about the route to put their case. Nevertheless, the Government's position is that we wish to get on with this road, subject to statutory procedures, as quickly as possible. Substantial advances are being made. However, this Bill illustrates one of the difficulties. I would not describe the constituents of the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) as a minority group. Nor would I say that those who are concerned with Epping Forest should not raise a query. They are in the surprising position, because of the position of the forest, of being able to challenge a private Bill. But it is quite right that the matter should have been examined in this way and that the Committee should take a careful look at what happened.

I shall give way in just a moment. I should like to point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath that progress with the M25 is now very good and we expect that fairly dramatic lengths of it will be under construction in the next year or two.

At present, 23 miles of the road in five separate sections is open to traffic and 24 miles of road is under construction. The route has been fixed for a further 40 miles, which means that we have finished the statutory procedures, planning is under way on the remaining 33 miles and the latest public inquiry into a 13-mile stretch from the Heathrow airport spur to the M40 at Denham opened on 23 October.

The position should soon be that very long stretches will be under construction and all but the north-west section of the road should be completed, subject to statutory procedures and the availability of funds during 1984, with the whole road being finished perhaps by the end of 1985.

Of course, that is subject to statutory procedures—objectors must have a right to come forward—and to resources because there are public expenditure constraints. However, the M25 is under no public expenditure constraints because we are giving it the highest priority in the programme. It is unlikely that any public expenditure considerations applying to the roads programme as a whole will be so severe that they affect progress on the M25.

The Minister referred to my views on behalf of my constituents. I should like to point out that I was not speaking only for my constituents. There are large numbers of people in East London, as well as in west Essex—East London was my home and has been the home of my family for many generations—who are deeply concerned about the preservation of the forest, not merely from the point of view of those living in the vicinity but for those living in urban areas. I hope that it will not be thought that I was speaking on behalf of only a narrow group of constituents.

I accept that entirely. I was not seeking to narrow the hon. Gentleman's interest and I said that those concerned about the forest are not a small minority group. There is widespread concern and I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend) is indicating that he did not have Epping Forest in mind. It is obviously in south London that the groups to which he referred are active at some points along the M25 route.

Every effort has been made to minimise the impact on the forest. I have stressed the importance of the road, and it appeared that it would not be possible to take a wide route that completely avoided the area of the forest. It would be longer and it would be most uneconomic to take such a wide orbital route. Indeed, the total land take, although outside the forest, would be considerably more. That is why agreement was reached with the conservators on a route that did the least harm to the forest.

The whole matter has been extensively examined and concessions have been made at various points to try to minimise the environmental impact. The conservators will transfer 14½ acres of forest land so that the road may be constructed. Some of that land is detached from the main body of the forest and is in small strips. In exchange for that, my Department will buy and give the conservators a similar area of land directly adjacent to the forest. There will be no net reduction in the size of the forest.

Of the land that we are taking, 5½ acres will be required only temporarily while the road is being constructed and that will be returned to the conservators in due course. Another nine acres will be held permanently by my Department, but six acres of that land will be open for public use.

The major incursion into the main body of the forest occurs at Bell Common and in order to preserve the forest the Department will put the road at that point in a cut and cover tunnel. We have entered into undertakings that are recorded in the Bill not only to cover that section of the road but to restore the land to its existing use, which is a cricket pitch.

I shall not go through all the precautions that are being taken to protect the forest, but one of the accommodation bridges is to be built wider than normal in order to encourage deer to use it to get across the road. A culvert will also be provided especially in order to enable deer to cross under the road—that will be for those deer that prefer to go under the traffic rather than over the top. Chain link fencing will be erected along the road to prevent deer from straying on to it.

Landscaping and tree planting will be carried out in order to minimise the ultimate effect on the appearance of the forest. All these matters were carefully considered by the Select Committee which sat on the Bill. There were petitioners against the Bill, obviously motivated by concern for protection of the forest. But the Select Committee has accepted that what has been done is necessary in the national and public interest and that everything possible has been done to preserve the environment of the forest. I hope that view will commend itself to hon. Members.

The hon. Member for Harlow asked about other road schemes that might affect Epping Forest. I have no idea what the sponsor and those promoting the Bill want to say on the matter. I will be frank. There are one or two places where my Department might contemplate road schemes that would involve encroachment again on to Epping Forest land. Before the hon. Gentleman becomes extremely alarmed, let me say that they are inconsequential compared with the M25. I am not aware of any major road scheme planned for the area and the possibilities—they are possibilities only that I am talking about—involve only roadside slivers where existing roads might be widened. Any proposal of that kind would have to be considered with the conservators and would be undertaken only following full public consultation when we had taken time to weigh every reaction to any proposals.

I am not, therefore, able to give an absolute guarantee from my Department of the sort for which the hon. Gentleman asked. I would merely say that the matters we are contemplating are very modest. They are only slivers of land. Nothing will be proceeded with until we have had a chance to weigh up public reaction and to consider whether what is proposed is worth while.

The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch and I resumed our discussions of two days ago on the question of Graham Road and Dalston Lane and the area between in his constituency. I share his delight that since that time he has made considerable progress. I am reluctant to enter directly, or have my Department enter directly, into discussions about a local road. The Ministry of Transport is responsible for the trunk road network of the country. This involves a very small proportion of the total road length. Decisions about local roads, particularly traffic management decisions, are much better taken by the local authority directly answerable to the local electorate that is most concerned.

I will nevertheless follow the hon. Gentleman's discussions with the City of London that he has arranged as part of the discussions connected with the Bill. I hope that those discussions reach a successful conclusion and that there is no need to take the matter further. But if he wishes to write to me putting points on which he feels the Ministry can helpfully intervene, I will consider whether this is an exceptional case in which we could take some part. Subject to that, I have made clear that we are in favour of the Bill and commend it to the House. We thank the sponsors for promoting and persevering with it.

I will be brief. I find myself in the peculiar circumstances of feeling sorry for the City corporation when I refer to clause 18 dealing with charges at the Museum of London. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) has already raised one aspect of this matter. As an opponent of museum charges of any sort, I feel perturbed that although the City corporation was prepared to include wording in its explanatory statement making clear that it did not intend to levy any charges at the London Museum

"at times when the premises are ordinarily open to the public for the purpose of viewing displays of a kind ordinarily provided at the premises "
this was not accepted as an amendment when the Bill was in Committee. I would like from the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) an undertaking on behalf of the City corporation that, whatever the law may state, it will act within the spirit of those words which it proposed should be included in the Act.

9.45 p.m.

By leave of the House, perhaps I may reply. I am grateful to hon. Members, who have all raised serious and important points. The hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shore-ditch (Mr. Brown) paid handsome tribute to the promoters in his meetings with them. I am sure that they appreciate what he said and recognise that this is the most civilised way of dealing with these matters. I am sure that they are happy to co-operate with him.

The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mr. Race) raised an interesting point, new to me, about the need to safeguard archaeological sites. The City is rich in history. I am fascinated by archaeological discoveries; my enthusiasm is exceeded only by that of the City fathers themselves. They are tremendously keen to preserve this heritage. Some people say that they are too enthusiastic, but the hon. Gentleman has only to look at what has happened in the past, starting with the excavation of the Temple of Mithras when Bucklersbury House was being built—my office was nearby—to recognise the concern that the City has for preserving these sites. I am told that those concerned will do everything possible in this direction. They believe that their powers to do so will be enhanced by the Bill, and there will certainly be no impediment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman is reassured by that.

The hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mr. Dobson) raised the important question of museum charges under clause 18. This matter had a curious career. It is true that the Bill not only gives powers to the board of governors to charge for admission to specialised exhibitions and other events but permits them to impose a general charge for entrance to the museum. This has caused some anxiety, although it is permitted under other law.

In Committee, it was sought to restrain this power, and the promoters had no objection. They had no objection to an amendment which would have added the words:
"Provided that no charge shall be made under this section for admission, at times when the premises are ordinarily open to the public, for the purpose of viewing displays of a kind ordinarily provided at the premises."
However, in its wisdom the Committee decided not to accept that amendment, so we are back to square one.

Perhaps I may reassure the hon. Gentleman. First of all, it is always possible that in another place, where the Bill has to be considered, an amendment will be made. If it is, there will be no obstruction from the promoters. Secondly, in any event, from a practical point of view, I can assure the hon. Gentleman on behalf of the promoters that they intend to operate within the spirit of this provision. It is certainly their intention to deal with charges only for specialised exhibitions and such things.

The hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Newens) has a justifiable concern for Epping Forest. We all do. I love the place, as does everybody in the City. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying that throughout the discussions the corporation has maintained strong opposition to any route which materially affected forest land and has been concerned to secure such arrangements for the construction of the road as would ensure that the chosen route would cause the least damage to the natural aspect of the forest.

Although I am not authorised to give any specific undertakings, I have tried to demonstrate the City's view. This was thrashed out in Committee for six days, when not only the promoters were heard but the Upshire Village Preservation Society, which was congratulated on the way in which it put its case. The Committee finally approved the provisions of part II on the understanding that no further road development should take place in the forest and that the recommendations of the Nature Conservancy Council for safeguarding ecological interests would be implemented as far as practicable. That is acceptable to the promoters.

We all understand the dilemma we face in any development of this kind, which always involves pain and suffering somewhere. But the philosophy here was best expressed on Second Reading by the then Under-Secretary of State for Transport, the hon. Member for Gateshead, West (Mr. Horam). Talking of the need to take a small stretch of Epping Forest, he said:
"I regret that as much as other hon. Members. We have gone to great lengths to protect the amenities of the forest … Failure to complete this road would leave unsolved acute problems of congestion, noise, pollution and danger which would far outweigh its adverse effects."—[Official Report. 6 March 1979; Vol. 963, c. 1211.]
That is the balance which we have to consider, and I know that the promoters have taken on board the points naturally and understandably put by the hon. Member for Harlow.

I believe that the right course is to allow the Bill to be considered.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, considered accordingly; to be read the Third time.