City of London (Ward Elections) Bill (By Order)

Schedule 6 – in the House of Commons at 6:46 pm on 24th February 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

Order for Second Reading read.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 7:02 pm, 24th February 1999

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Before the start of the debate, will you clarify the exact process whereby declarations of interest, specifically with regard to the City of London corporation, should be made before contributions are made to the debate? In particular, I refer you to the code of conduct together with the "Guide to the Rules Relating to the Conduct of Members", which says on page 8, in paragraph 11: Any Member having a registrable interest which has not at the time been registered, shall not undertake any action, speech or proceeding of the House (save voting) to which the registration would be relevant until notification has been given to the Commissioner for Standards of that interest. As you will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, there are various categories, including a miscellaneous category that covers any relevant interests not falling into the other categories, as well as gifts, benefits and hospitality.

Will you rule whether being a Freemason falls within any of those categories, in particular the miscellaneous category, and is therefore an interest that should be registered and declared by a Member and, if it is not declared, that Member should not be taking part in this debate, save by voting?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

That is not a matter on which I can rule at this point. Any further clarification that is required on the standards to be observed by hon. Members must come from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, not from the Chair on an occasion such as this.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like clarification. It has been alleged that the Bill—and therefore the debate—contravenes the first protocol of the European convention for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms, which was conferred into British law by this Parliament after the passing of the Human Rights Act 1998. That protocol relates to the right to free elections. It states in article 3: The High Contracting Parties"— the United Kingdom Governmentundertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people"— not business— in the choice of the legislature. The issue is that, our having passed the convention into UK law, the Bill is in contravention of the Human Rights Act and the debate is therefore illegal. I ask for your ruling on that, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

It is not a matter for the Chair to make that determination. It is a matter for the courts. The point that the hon. Gentleman seeks to make as a point of order can certainly be raised in the debate.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you therefore clarify the Speaker's role in guiding the House on any illegal activity? Surely it is a matter for the Speaker to ensure that the House remains within its powers and does not overstep any international commitments or legislation that we have signed up to.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

The hon. Gentleman flatters the Chair in thinking that the Chair can rule on such matters. The role of the Chair is entirely to rule on matters of order in this House, dealing with the business that comes before the House for debate. What the hon. Gentleman seeks is outside my capacity.

Photo of Stuart Bell Stuart Bell Second Church Estates Commissioner

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It should not be allowed to remain on the record that the House could be in any way conducting an illegal sitting or proceedings. The House of Commons is entirely sovereign and we are duly elected to represent our constituents. It should not be thought for a minute that the House could in any way act illegally.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

I hope that no such implication was made in the exchanges so far.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course, there was no such implication. However, we have enacted the human rights legislation, and it makes illegal any act in the United Kingdom that is in contravention of the European convention for the protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms or the furtherance of any such act. It is therefore important that, before the debate proceeds further, we should have clear guidance, if necessary from the Lord Chancellor's Department. I accept that this body is sovereign, and in our sovereignty, we passed the human rights legislation, this time last year, to sign up to the protocol. It is therefore critical—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now clearly straying into the realms of debate. He may have an opportunity to catch my eye if he wishes to develop that argument, but the Bill before us has patently not yet been passed into legislation. If there were any suggestion that it was incompatible with other legislation, that would be a matter for the courts, certainly not for the Chair on this occasion.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not want to strain your patience—you have been exceptionally good to me so far.

The debate takes place under Standing Order No. 20 of "Standing Orders of the House of CommonsPublic Business 1999". The Bill is private business and the Standing Order relates to private business. The motion in my name and that of my hon. Friends to delay consideration of the Bill proposes: That the Bill be read a second time upon this day six months. I accept that, under Standing Order No. 20, it is open to the Chairman of Ways and Means to appoint business, but will you clarify the grounds on which the Bill has been timetabled for consideration today and what reasons there are for doing so before the end of the six-month period?

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

It is entirely within the discretion of the Chairman of Ways and Means when to set down business for consideration, and that cannot be questioned on a point of order. I have made a ruling and determination that this is the evening on which the Bill should be considered, and that is the end of the matter.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any method by which the Chair must explain his or her ruling on those matters and the grounds on which that timetabling has been decided, and other business has not been given priority? I would welcome, as I am sure other hon. Members would, the opportunity to debate that procedure.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

No, there is no such opportunity. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to criticise decisions of the Chair, he must do so on a substantive motion. I am merely trying better to order the business that comes before the House. Certain slots have to be provided for the disposal of private business, and I have tried to discharge that function in a perfectly impartial way.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. No criticism was intended; I am engaged in an honest search for the truth and clarification, and I thank you for that.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 7:09 pm, 24th February 1999

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Many things in the City of London have a very long history. The local electoral system dealt with in the Bill is certainly one of them. In recent times, the shortcomings of the system have been the subject of some criticism—shortcomings that have been recognised by the City corporation itself.

Dealing with those shortcomings legislatively has, however, been less straightforward, but it is what the corporation seeks to do in the measure. It does so in the context that none of the political parties now has a policy of abolishing the corporation, so the issue is one of reform and of how the City's various interests may be more evenly represented.

Although the Bill is corrective in nature, it would be quite wrong to infer that local government in the City has failed to work. The reverse is the case. The common council, which discharges the local authority functions in the City, is widely credited for its innovative activities. Indeed, one of the foundations of the success of the City as the leading international financial centre is the support that is given by its own dedicated local authority, to which the present Prime Minister testified in a lecture in the City in September 1996.

The corporation's support for democratic rights also has a long history. This speech is not the occasion for that trawl through history, but it is perhaps worth recalling that the passage of the Great Reform Bill of 1832 through the House followed strident petitions to Parliament from the City civic urging those reforms.

The last royal commission on London local government, which sat for three years between 1957 and 1960—perhaps I should declare an interest and say that it was appointed by my father—recognised the distinct nature of local government in the City, and recommended its retention.

The approach of the commission has been continued by the present Government. In their Green Paper "New Leadership for London", the Government stated in paragraphs 1.10: We have made it clear that we do not intend to abolish the City Corporation. In recent years the City Corporation has sought to play a much more positive role in order to promote inward investment and to fund schemes and studies for the benefit of London as a whole. The Corporation has assured the Government that it will continue to develop this work and has accepted that it must respond to the need to improve its electoral arrangements. Paragraph 1.11 continues: The Corporation is currently devising detailed proposals to improve its franchise, including that for Aldermen, so that it represents more accurately the various interests in the Square Mile".

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I had not quite finished shall give way when I have done so.

The Green Paper goes on: We look forward to detailed discussion with the Autumn. I give way to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

My right hon. Friend mentioned aldermanic elections. A friend of mine, Mr. Malcolm Matson, was elected in an entirely proper way by his ward to the aldermanic bench. Then, for no good reason that I can divine, he was prevented from taking his place on the aldermanic bench. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that if the Bill goes through, that unfortunate state of affairs cannot arise again?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I, too, know Mr. Matson, and have known him for a long time. My hon. Friend describes accurately the circumstances of that episode. It is the case—arising not out of the Bill, but out of the rules of the City corporation—that such an event will not occur again. I can confirm that to my hon. Friend.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. Throughout the rest of local government, aldermen have been abolished. Does the Bill contain provision for that, and if not, should it include such provision?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I understand the hon. Gentleman's question. As local government in the City of London goes back many centuries before it was developed in other parts of the country, the tradition of aldermen is a particularly old one in the City—older than in much local government that was formed in the 19th century. The royal commission to which I referred acknowledged that the City of London was different from other local government, it acknowledged that the City was an anomaly, and it argued that it should continue to exist, with reform. When aldermen were abolished elsewhere by legislation in the 1970s, the aldermen in the City of London were retained and are not affected by the Bill.

The discussions referred to in the Green Paper have taken place and have been fruitful. The White Paper entitled, "A Mayor and Assembly for London" records in paragraphs 1.25 and 1.26: In New Leadership for London we made it clear that we do not propose to abolish the City Corporation. In reaching this decision we were relying upon the assurance that the Corporation would continue its work in promoting inward investment and financing studies for the benefit of London as a whole, and had accepted that it must respond to the need to improve its electoral arrangements. The Corporation has produced its own proposals for reform which have been the subject of consultation and discussion with those who live in the City and the variety of bodies which operate there.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I sit with the right hon. Gentleman on the Committee that is considering the Greater London Authority Bill, and am now the secretary of his fan club because of his articulateness in that Committee.

On the statement by the Labour party before the election, does the right hon. Gentleman consider that the commitment not to abolish the City corporation was conditional on adequate reform proposals being brought forward as a result of the Bill, and that if adequate proposals are not brought forward during this Parliament or this Government's term of office, abolition may well proceed? The reforms must therefore be genuine, proper and democratic.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Perhaps I made the mistake of not completing the quotation before I gave way to the hon. Gentleman, as I did in the case of my hon. Friend. However, I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman. I am not, of course, privy to what went on in the Labour party in the run-up to the election. I detect, however, that the City corporation got the message that was being communicated to the City about the need to reform its electoral arrangements. The corporation has presented the proposals to the Government in order to verify that the Government were seeking that degree of electoral reform.

It may be helpful if I quote the paragraph in the White Paper, which states: These proposals involve both reforming the existing franchise in order to prevent abuse and the extension of the electoral system to give a wider variety of bodies and organisations voting rights within the Square Mile. We shall continue to maintain an interest in the Corporation's proposals for reforming its franchise as they develop. In that sense, the hon. Gentleman is quite right—we are in real-time business.

I happily give way to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn).

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn Labour, Chesterfield

The right hon. Gentleman will know as well as any of us that there has never been any change in our electoral system without a Speaker's Conference. It has always been understood that the Boundary Commission and electoral reform of all kinds have developed in this way. Can he explain to the House what it is about the City that allows it to change its own electoral system, without considering the impact that that would have on the rest of the country, or the interests of the parties involved? What gives the City the right to draft its own constitution? Is it a city state? Is it an offshore island? What is the status of the City that allows it even to contemplate such a change?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I take the spirit of the right hon. Gentleman's question. I have had the pleasure of listening to many of his speeches down the years. The fact that the City was so early into democratic principles—much earlier, I fear, than even Parliament—means that much of what we are discussing is hallowed, but there is a charter going back to the reign of Edward III in 1341.

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that when we were discussing the White Paper on reform of the House of Lords, I raised with him the fact that he had omitted from his list of House of Lords reforms the 1857 proposal that there should be life peers in the House of Lords, which was defeated in the House of Lords. It was in exactly the same year that the last comprehensive reform of the City of London occurred.

The ability for modification has persisted. When the right hon. Gentleman was a member of the Cabinet in 1969, three wards of the City of London had their boundaries altered within the City, without reference to the Boundary Commission. I am not in any way holding him responsible for that—it would not naturally have fallen to the Postmaster General, although in a funny sort of way it might have done, because postcodes might well have been involved. It has been a persistent fact that the City has that ability.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn Labour, Chesterfield

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the Representation of the People Act 1948, which abolished the business vote, is to be repealed in part by this Bill, which will restore the business vote in contradistinction of the law laid down for the whole country by the post-war Parliament?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am very hesitant to disagree with the right hon. Gentleman, whose historical knowledge is much greater than mine. In 1948, neither he nor I was in the House of Commons, but he was a member of the Cabinet in 1969 when the business vote was taken away in local government elections. There is a slight hazard in his using parliamentary elections as a read-across into what happened within the City of London. When the 1969 Act was passed, the then Home Secretary, the noble Lord Callaghan, specifically accepted the business vote in the City and retained it because the City was different from other entities of local government. In that respect, he was echoing the judgment of Lord Herbert in the royal commission approximately a decade earlier.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

Having heard almost "The Guinness Book of Records" number of points of order, I wondered whether my right hon. Friend could help me. If the Bill is passed, will more or fewer people living and working in the City of London be entitled to vote for the common council?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The number of people who will cast votes in the City of London will go up substantially. The number of residents voting will be the same as the number of residents allowed to vote now, but the number of people voting will rise by 39,000.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

What is the percentage of the total votes that residents would have in future, compared with now? Would it remain the same, would it go up—or would it go down, as I suspect is the case?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

In the natural order of things, and in the light of the answer that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), the percentage of votes cast by residents would fall if the number of residents' votes does not go up, and the number of business votes does go up. However, it is not quite as simple as that. The residential vote is concentrated largely in certain wards, where the percentage of votes held by residents will continue at the same level. Therefore, no change will occur in terms of the election result.

Photo of Mr Iain Coleman Mr Iain Coleman Labour, Hammersmith and Fulham

Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that the percentage figure in terms of resident voters will fall from one in four now to less than one in 10?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I think that the hon. Gentleman is approximately right. However, that does not contradict the points that I have made to the hon. Member for Bolton, SouthEast (Dr. Iddon), who asked me about the percentage of residential votes. As residential votes are primarily concentrated in what I might call certain residential wards, their ability to influence the corporation will be exactly the same as before, because residents will cast votes in the wards where they are very much predominant.

I was saying that the proposals before the House deal primarily with how a wider range of bodies and organisations are, consistent with the comments in the White Paper, to be given voting rights. Because the City is overwhelmingly a place for doing business, it is inevitable that the business dimension will be prominent. The wholly atypical nature of the City hardly needs restating, having been recognised by the last royal commission, the local government commission and by the 1969 Labour Government, to which I referred in response to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), when they kept the business vote of the City while abolishing it elsewhere.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I do not wish to ration the hon. Gentleman. It was perfectly clear from his points of order that he has a profound interest in this subject. Of course I shall give way.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

The right hon. Gentleman mentioned that the City is profoundly atypical, yet in my constituency is a location called Stockley park, a vast expanse of land containing numerous businesses but only two residents. It is as atypical as the City because it deals with almost as many individual companies pro rata within a smaller area. On that basis, would the right hon. Gentleman advocate a business vote within that area, and therefore the withdrawal of the democratic right of individuals to control the area via their local authority?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I respond gingerly to that question, in case you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, should rule me out of order, for the hon. Gentleman takes me into the realms of the total reform of local government. Moreover, he turns his back on the noble Lord Callaghan, who specifically singled out the City from every other local authority in the country.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

May I take the right hon. Gentleman back to the proposition that he made a couple of minutes ago that, as residents of the City of London are concentrated in certain wards, their democratic leverage on the corporation of London is somehow enhanced? I took my time considering this and cast my mind back over the 10 years that I spent on the other most democratic local authority in the country, the City of Westminster, to see whether, in my experience, his proposition was correct. Does not the fact that there will be 39,000 additional electors—all members of the business rather than the residential community—outweigh any leverage that 5,000 people, no matter how concentrated they are in certain wards, have over the policy making of the corporation of London?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The hon. Gentleman misunderstands the point that I was making. I am grateful to him for his remark about Westminster, which enables me to mention briefly what I left out of my draft. I referred earlier to the 1832 reform Bill. So liberal was the franchise in Westminster in the run-up to the 1832 Bill that after it had been passed the people of Westminster still had a more generous franchise than the rest of the country was getting under the Bill.

In response to the hon. Gentleman's question, the point remains exactly the same: the proportion of members of the common council representing residential wards will be the same in the new common council as it was in the old, because members will continue to be elected for the residential ward. To be fair to myself, I do not think that I used the word "enhanced". I was saying that their position was effectively unchanged by the move.

As the hon. Gentleman mentioned Westminster, I shall return to my speech, in which I was about to make a comparison with Westminster. May I give a flavour of the distinctiveness by reference to figures taken from the two halves of my constituency? In the W1 postal district I have as many businesses as I have households. Obviously, there are a number of wards in that area. In the City, 50 times as many people are engaged in business as there are electors. The density of employees per square kilometre is more than 88,500 in the City, whereas in Westminster it is 22,325, or approximately a quarter.

The proposals in the Bill are novel, but they deal with a novel situation. They build on the existing business franchise. Clauses 1 and 2 set out the short title and define the terms used in the Bill. Clause 3, which is the principal provision, replaces the existing residential and business electoral qualifications with the qualifications in subsections (1)(a), (1)(b) and (1)(c). Subsection (1)(b) is straightforward and deals with the residential voter. Subsections (1)(a) and (1)(c) deal with the business or commercial voter. The subsections have a common thread, which is that personal physical presence for what the Bill terms "relevant purposes" is needed. The relevant purposes in the context of the Bill will normally be business purposes.

In the case of an individual in business on his own account as a sole proprietor or partner, that individual will have to satisfy the requirement of personal physical presence—that is, he must actually work in the City. In the case of an incorporated body—usually a limited company—or an unincorporated body, the personal physical presence must be satisfied by those representing or working for the company in the City. In other words, companies cannot be "shells". They must have people working on the premises—[Interruption.] I see the pleasure that that thought gives the right hon. Member for Chesterfield.

Photo of Brian Iddon Brian Iddon Labour, Bolton South East

My question is simple: could such persons work in the City for only one day?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

No, not for only one day. To respond with intellectual honesty to the hon. Gentleman's question, I should say that the figure goes down to a rateable value of £200, but £200 is calculated as being the rateable value that someone is required to have in order to have a person working in the City, even if he is working as a single individual. One day would not be sufficient. Indeed, the rateable value has been chosen to get away from transient problems, which other proposals might have involved.

In the case of an individual—

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I have started on this paragraph so I shall finish it, as I have a degree of curiosity about what is at the end of the speech myself.

An individual in business on his own account as sole proprietor or partner must have people working on the premises. That approach prevents giving the vote to notional occupiers—I should not have allowed the hon. Member for Bolton, SouthEast to interrupt me at the moment he did—which is a distortion that can arise under the current system.

I should also mention that subsection (4) makes it clear that no individual can vote more than once, whatever the capacity by which he satisfies the electoral qualifications. That cures another latent defect in the present system. That will please the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, although it is not matched in the affairs of this House. If there are two by-elections on one day in different parts of the country, and a particular individual has a vote in both places, he is, under the laws of the land, able to exercise both votes, but he cannot vote more than once in each of the elections.

Clause 3(2) sets the period of currency for the new ward lists as annually beginning with 16 February. That aligns the City with the general law in the Representation of the People Acts. There are consequential amendments on dates in schedule 2. The administration of the City's system, particularly the compilation of the provisional ward lists, has, however, required the setting of a somewhat earlier qualifying date for entry on the ward lists–1 September as opposed to 10 October, under the general law—to enable the operative date for the annual ward lists to coincide with the national scheme.

Apart from dealing with various exceptional circumstances relating to multiple occupation, schedule 1 sets out the entitlement of limited companies and other qualifying bodies, as the Bill terms them, to appoint individuals to vote. The basic requirement is that a company—

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North

The right hon. Gentleman is very kind. Will he confirm that voters, as opposed to the occupiers who nominate them, need not be workers in the City or, indeed, need never have set foot in the City, which they will then purport to represent?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The hon. Lady makes a correct statement, but—not least because of pressure from the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), whose intervention I have been constantly expecting as the debate has progressed and which I am confident that I shall, in due course, receive—the code by which qualifying bodies will choose the people who will cast their votes for them will be made public. That code carries with it the "Clapham omnibus", sensible and reasonable assumption that people will be chosen who actually have something to do with the City, for there would be little point in putting them on the body if they did not.

The basic requirement is that a company will be entitled to appoint individuals according to the rateable value of the premises occupied. Up to a rateable value of £10,000, they will be entitled to appoint one individual. Over that figure, and up to £1 million, there will be an entitlement to appoint additional individuals based on £10,000 rateable value bands. Over £1 million, they will be entitled to appoint additional individuals based on £100,000 rateable value bands. That, therefore, gives a taper to the entitlement.

The standard local government qualification—

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

Yes. The hon. Gentleman has been extremely patient; he might have drawn my attention to the fact that I had completed the paragraph.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I did not intervene to show that he was not showing favour to his parliamentary neighbour. May I confirm that hon. Members always enjoy his contributions, so we will be listening carefully through to the end?

You have laid out for us the basis of the—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that he should be addressing the right hon. Gentleman, not the Chair.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The right hon. Gentleman has laid out for us the basis of the new franchise, which will concentrate control in the hands of business, but the City of London authority is a local government authority. It provides a considerable number of services to those who live in the City. If the franchise is to be changed in such a way, is not there an argument that the authority should no longer be part of local government, as it has been in the past?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The hon. Gentleman takes me into a semantic jungle that I am ill-equipped to traverse, but in any Bill applying to the City of London—when he has seen as many Bills as I have, he will begin to learn the phrase-there is always a separate, particular and specific reference to the City of London, because it is not a local authority like any other. That is a statutory observation, not simply something born of Lord Herbert's decision in the royal commission.

The standard local government qualifications governing aspects such as nationality will apply to all electors. In other words, the voting rights will be the same as for local government elections. The system proposed acknowledges that the rating list is a convenient source, and that the size of premises bears some relationship to what the occupier pays in rates for the premises and also to the number of people likely to be working there.

Clause 4 deals with the procedures by which—

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

Can the right hon. Gentleman clarify one issue? If the building is vacant and no one is working there, but the landlord is paying rates, will he still be entitled to the same franchise as someone who is trading from a building?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

No. I know that the hon. Gentleman has been hanging on my every word, but there must have been a moment in which he missed a sentence of mine. I have specifically said that an empty building would not have representation.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I delayed until the last possible moment before intervening.

I have two specific questions. First, will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, as a matter of law, in the Bill as drafted, it is entirely up to what the Bill describes as the qualifying body to decide how to allocate its votes? For example, it could raffle them. Secondly, will he confirm that there is nothing to prevent someone being nominated by a qualifying body, even if he works for the City of London—the corporation—or has some commercial interest linked to it?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The hon. Gentleman is quite correct in respect of his first question, although anyone who engaged in a raffle would have to pay attention, not only to the laws relating to raffles, but to those relating to criminal proceedings in British elections. That would be a slightly hazardous way of choosing a candidate.

I may have to respond later, under advisement, to the hon. Gentleman's second point. I am not conscious of a restraint in respect of the individual, although I think that he should be an employee. Even on that I am not certain, so I shall come back to the hon. Gentleman. I am grateful to him for raising the question.

Clause 4 deals with the procedures by which the individuals appointed to vote will be entered on the ward lists. The town clerk, who is responsible for administration of electoral matters, will undertake inquiries to identify the qualifying bodies and will request details from them about their appointments. The individuals concerned will then be entered on the ward lists.

Clauses 5 and 6 and schedule 2 deal with amendments and repeals and a saving for elections to be held under the current system before the new ward lists become operational. Some aspects of the reforms are not dealt with in the Bill. That is because they are being provided for through the City's legislative powers, about which the right hon. Member for Chesterfield asked me earlier. The corporation will deploy those powers to provide for four-year terms of election, consistent with the arrangements in London boroughs. The date of ward elections will be aligned with the election season for the boroughs; elections in the City currently take place in December.

The corporation will examine the ways in which turnout may be enhanced by means of practical voting arrangements, including the location of polling stations. That, too, was a worry for the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey. The corporation has already said that it will publish a code of practice on the appointment of individuals to vote by qualifying bodies, and work on that is in hand. In the corporation's view, it is appropriate for the allocation of appointments to reflect the nature of the organisation and its work force, including its gender mix. I hope that will reassure the hon. Gentleman.

I should refer specifically to the position of residents. A number of Labour Members have already given me ample opportunities to do so. Under the existing system, some wards in the City are predominantly residential. The corporation recognises, and has always recognised, that the interests of residents should be maintained in the new system; therefore, the system has been designed to ensure that wards that are predominantly residential in character remain so. Likewise, the corporation will review the distribution of voting capacity in each ward, with the aim of ensuring the maintenance of a reasonable balance between the size of wards and their electorate.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn Labour, Chesterfield

May I take up the right hon. Gentleman's point about the interests of the business community in the City? Can he assure us that every shareholder in businesses there will have an opportunity to vote, and to determine who should vote on his or her behalf? One shareholder, one vote: that is the one principle that I want the right hon. Gentleman to establish.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I am delighted to learn that the right hon. Gentleman still espouses the principle of one man, one vote. I understand that the Labour party no longer espouses that principle in internal elections in certain parts of the country.

I have already said that the decision on who will vote will be made by the businesses concerned. As the right hon. Gentleman will appreciate, the element of the business that is in the City may be only a small part of a much larger business. Although 118 of the 500 largest companies in the European Union have their headquarters in the City, there are many small businesses there as well, and I feel that a shareholder system would be unwieldy.

Considerable efforts have been made to involve, and seek the views of, City residents, and the corporation has no evidence to suggest that there is a significant amount of dissatisfaction with what is being proposed. Let me add that the proposals are not intended, or expected, to have any effects on services provided from funds outside the local government finance system, such as the provision for open spaces for which the City is responsible.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

The corporation has asserted that there is no substantial opposition to the proposals. In fact, petitions have been received opposing the Bill; but, in any event, has the City organised a ballot of residents? If so, have the results been published? Has there been any consultation of the electorate of Greater London overall?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I enjoy the hon. Gentleman's interventions, but I think that the idea of involving the whole of Greater London in the decision is a bit rich. As for the question of consultation, the corporation publishes a magazine called City Review, which is widely distributed and which I am sure the hon. Gentleman has seen. It is published every two months, and for the past 18 months or so every issue has contained references to the Bill, and invitations to readers to write in. It has produced a booklet, which I have here. People have written, and there has been an opportunity for discussions with residents. Any resident who was not aware of what was going on must be living a somewhat hermit-like life.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I do not want people to forget what I was saying before the hon. Gentleman intervened. I have been pretty generous to him. Let me finish what I was saying about open spaces.

Open spaces such as Epping forest are subject to statutory protection through legislation promoted by the corporation itself, which demands that they be maintained and conserved to a high standard. That legislation is unaffected by the Bill, and the corporation has no intention of changing it.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

As Epping forest is in my constituency, this concerns me very much. The right hon. Gentleman says that the legislation will not change; but will the money change? If there were more members of the common council interested only in keeping costs down in the centre, with no commitment to open spaces outside the centre, could they, under the proposed voting system, have more power to cut financial support for the open spaces?

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

I was going to deal with the money aspect, because I knew that the hon. Gentleman was concerned about it. I can say, however, that in addition to the many initiatives, costing about £40 million a year, that the City maintains—initiatives that are available to everyone in London, which are supported by the City fund and include the Barbican—there is a separate resource, known as City's cash, consisting of the accumulated wealth of merchants who have left money to the City for eight centuries. It is with some of that money that Epping forest is maintained. Although councillors will continue to take an interest, and, presumably, will make decisions, the funds supporting Epping forest are nothing to do with local government finance.

Although the expenditure involved in administering open spaces and the like outside the City does not constitute public expenditure, I am advised that the corporation will make available the annual estimates for them. I am sure that the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) will be able to see those estimates.

The Bill is the culmination of wide-ranging consultation within the City business community, and with residents, as well as with the Government and other interested parties. It offers a solution that, in the corporation's view, addresses the particular circumstances of the City, consistent with the White Paper.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead 7:47 pm, 24th February 1999

I am the first listed objector to the Bill, but I presume that others will wish to speak.

I am grateful for the way in which the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) expressed his support for the Bill. He accepted a number of interventions, and tried to respond to them. At one point, he said that he wanted to get on because he wanted to find out how his speech would end. We are pleased to have heard the end of the speech—but I am not sure that it was worth it.

The last time I crossed swords with the right hon. Gentleman on a private Bill was when he sponsored a Bill that related to the City of Westminster. I spoke against it for nearly three hours. I do not intend to speak for anywhere near that long tonight, but as I listened to the right hon. Gentleman's speech, I recalled that his Bill dealt with a number of businesses in Westminster, such as porn shops. I wondered whether, if the principles being applied to the business community of the City of London—allowing that community all the votes—applied to Westminster, the right hon. Gentleman would represent the porn shops.

The Bill creates a huge democratic deficit. In fact, "deficit" is a kind description; it is really a democratic negation. My hon. Friends will say more about this, but the City of London Labour party has pointed out that the residents' share of the franchise will fall from its current 25 per cent. or thereabouts to less than 10 per cent., and that voters could be nominated by occupiers or agents who might live anywhere: they might not even be United Kingdom citizens, and might not even have set foot in the City of London.

The City of London Labour party also points out that there are no guarantees in the Bill for residents, and that their position will be worse. It states: Business interests should not be allowed to override those of residents, as they do now, in matters like planning, traffic and the environment. That is a fair point. Like any other local authority, the court of common council will discuss those local issues: planning, traffic, the environment in the City. It should be the residents—because they are the ones who will be affected by decisions in the main—who exercise that democratic element.

Mention was made of representations by Malcolm Matson. I have his letter. Presumably, it was sent to other hon. Members.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

In certain parts of the City, there are practically no residents. For example, the ward of Farringdon Without has a substantial electoral roll, but it is made up mostly of members in the Temple, and people working in Smithfield and a diversity of other trades. There are few residents, so how will such an area in London and the City be properly represented? Who will represent it? Who will vote in that ward? Will it be left just as a void, or will residents in some other part of the City be expected, under the hon. Gentleman's ideas, to represent the people who live and work in Farringdon Without?

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I am surprised at that intervention. The key principle is that residents should be the voters, rather than businesses, which are in many ways absent in terms of business interests; perhaps their headquarters are elsewhere, too. However, some constituencies for this Parliament are very far flung because that is the way in which we achieve an equal number of residents voting. I do not see why all the wards have to be of an equal size in any system. Therefore, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's point applies.

Mr. Matson sent a letter on the Bill to hon. Members. It said: the Corporation of London wants to extend … the undemocratic 'business vote'.Actually the proposal is even more bizarre.The Bill is the first retreat from the principle of universal suffrage since the Reform Act of 1832 … which began a long march to 'one person one vote'.The Bill will give votes to companies and other bodies according to the rateable value of their offices. The higher the rateable value the more votes they will get.For the first time in a modern western democracy you will be able to buy as many votes in an election for a local authority as you can afford—just keep on adding to your property portfolio! He calls on us to stop "the last rotten borough". That is a good summary of what I politely describe as the democratic deficit. My hon. Friends will want to say more about that, but the corporation of London should rethink that aspect.

As I have said, there are no guarantees to residents, but nor are there any guarantees to those who enjoy open spaces that are outside the City of London, but which are owned and run by the corporation. My main reason for objecting to the Bill—it is not just the democratic deficit—involves the representations that I have received from the Open Spaces Society.

Bernard Selwyn, honorary parliamentary consultant of the society, said that the Bill could affect the character of the court of common council and how the corporation's extra-mural duties are carried out, including, of course, those on Epping forest. He says that some constituencies have open spaces outside the City which the Corporation has acquired and been proudly and conscientiously maintaining for many years. I agree. It has done a relatively good job. He says that those open spaces could be put at risk.

Mr. Selwyn adds that the corporation is responsible for the London metropolitan archives, that they should be protected, and that assurances should be given on them as well. He says: Over 40,000 new business votes will be created, but some of the existing votes are expected to be replaced by them so that the total electorate will reduce to more than 54,000 of which some 49,000 will be business voters. He goes on to say: Many of the qualifying bodies will be foreign and have no attachment to London except as a financial centre. While we hope that they will take some pride in the traditions and wider interests of the City, some may only wish to ensure that any money raised by rates or from other sources is not used more than can be avoided for purposes of no benefit to themselves, and they may seek to appoint representatives who have no personal connection with London and can be trusted to vote and even stand as candidates for election to the common council solely to protect the selfish concerns of the body appointing them. That is my concern. If we get more people with that selfish interest, who will be on the common council to stop them spending money on open spaces or to restrict it?

The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster was right to say that the councillors make the decisions on the Epping forest land for which they are responsible, but it will be councillors with that pressure on them—with that electorate. They may say, "That is something that we are not interested in."

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

The hon. Gentleman may have missed a sentence that I said in response to a question that he had asked me. Epping forest is not paid for out of the rates. The pressure that he is describing would not apply in the context of Epping forest. Ever since the City saved it from enclosure in 1878 and subsequently doubled it in size, the forest has been paid for by separate City funds.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says and I heard what he said about City's cash, which presumably is a separate fund, but he said that councillors take the decisions regarding Epping forest. Those councillors will have an electorate who may not be interested in Epping forest, so that is the main basis of my objection. I look to protect the interests of my constituents who enjoy Epping forest land. I am grateful that the corporation of London has run it relatively well up to now, but I want that to be maintained and improved.

Photo of Tony Baldry Tony Baldry Conservative, Banbury

The hon. Gentleman fairly concedes that the City has looked after places such as Epping forest and Burnham Beeches very well. How will the Bill change that? Already on the court of common council there are business people, men and women. The difficulty at the moment is that the franchise is restricted to certain trades because of the nature of the franchise. There are butchers, barristers and chartered accountants, but those people have not restricted the money that is spent on Burnham Beeches and Epping forest. So why, if one extends the franchise to encompass all sorts of other trading activities in the City, should the City somehow become more selfish and more inward looking?

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I hear the hon. Gentleman's point. I have not been critical of the corporation of London. In certain respects, I have—in individual cases where I do not think that it has done a good enough job for my local area—but the general point is that it has run matters well. However, we will have an altered balance of the franchise and businesses. Some will have foreign interests, as the Open Spaces Society has said, little interest in the City and even less interest in the area outside the City for which the corporation is responsible.

The hon. Gentleman may be right in suggesting that the policy will not change. I certainly hope that that is the case, but by changing the franchise it puts at risk that commitment. That is why I object—to ensure that that commitment is absolutely maintained. That is my main concern.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

I apologise for the fact that, although I have been here for all the hon. Gentleman's speech, I was late in arriving.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, although the businesses may be owned outside the United Kingdom, the people whom they will be nominating to vote—

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

May I finish my point? The people whom those business will be nominating to vote have to be qualified to vote in a British election. Although they have to be either British citizens, European Union citizens or Commonwealth citizens, they have to live here, too. They are therefore not people who will have been parachuted in for the pleasure of sitting in on endless common council meetings.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I appreciate the hon. Lady's point, but the Open Spaces Society does not agree with it. The society stated that the businesses that will now have the vote may seek to appoint representatives who have no personal connection with London and can be trusted to vote and even stand as candidates for election to the common council solely to protect the selfish concerns of the body appointing them. That is a very real concern to the Open Spaces Society.

I am therefore not convinced by the point made by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait)—that the new representatives will be dead keen to live in the City, to be active there and to work 100 per cent. in the City's best interests. I am certainly not convinced that they will automatically be interested in the City's functions outside the square mile. I also suspect that they will not be much interested in the Epping forest land in my constituency—but I am. I am very concerned about it, as are my constituents. We want to ensure that we receive assurances that the current commitment will be maintained and even increased.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

It is critical that we clarify the point. I have searched the Bill, and—as my hon. Friend has pointed out in the letters he is quoting from the City of London Labour party and the Open Spaces Society—it would impose no residency condition. There is no residency qualification.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying the point.

The Open Spaces Society points out that the corporation is responsible for the management and conservation of more than 10,000 acres—more than 15 square miles—of open space. Those spaces are paid for out of the City's cash account—the private fund which has been built over the centuries and was mentioned by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. Mr. Selwyn said: However, we regret that no accounts of this fund are published although the expenditure has to be approved by the common council and the duties are subject to statutory requirements. I heard the comments made by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster on annual estimates. Although that concession is welcome, it is wrong for there to be such secrecy surrounding details of the fund, which is so important to Londoners. The matter should be opened up.

I should like to provide an example—in which my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction might be quite interested—of the effects of the secrecy. The Government have a new deal policy, in which one option for young people is to serve on an environmental task force, doing environmental work. The City of London corporation should want to assist the Government in the project. Perhaps we should expect the corporation to help financially with the project. However, the corporation might say, "We don't have the funds to do it", or, "We're not really interested in helping the Government or in getting young people into training and working on an environmental task force." All the time, it could be sitting on top of secret funds totalling millions of pounds, which could be helping young people and the Government's policy. That is only one example of why there should be accountability of and transparency in City's cash.

The public might have some interest—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman has made his point on that matter, which seems to fall well outside the scope of the Bill.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I take the point, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am saying only that there should be some transparency and accountability about City's cash. The new representatives, who will be elected on the basis of the new franchise, might say, "We don't have the money to maintain current open-spaces policies and commitments", whereas in secret they will have the money. I think that people should know the exact situation.

I should like to deal with a few local issues, if my hon. Friends will allow me to do so—I know that they would like to return to the main issue of the democratic deficit. Nevertheless, there are a few constituency matters in relation to the open spaces and the corporation's policies. I should like to mention some of them, not least because I might get them in the local newspapers and please the local residents.

The Hollow pond is run by the City of London corporation, at Whipps Cross, and is heavily used. Parts of it have become quite barren, and it requires proper replanting. There should be a better policy to that end. The land is used very heavily, proportionately more than other parts of Epping forest. Moreover, there has been much work on the M11 link road in the neighbouring area.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman has flagged this section of his speech too obviously, as it were. I really cannot accept that it is within the scope of the Bill.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I do apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

In his reply, I should like to hear from the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster how the new franchise and election of a new common council will impact on those local issues. That information would interest my constituents, who clearly want the Hollow pond at Whipps Cross to be maintained and improved. The pond that has dried up and was just left at the junction—

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. The hon. Gentleman is now acting in defiance of my ruling. I tell him that the matter is outwith this debate. He has made his point generally, which is permissible, but he is now going far too far.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I shall not pursue the matter further today, but I will pursue it in writing with the corporation, as it affects my constituents—such as an individual who wants, for example, to locate a bench with a plaque to his mother, but has been turned down.

Photo of Alan Haselhurst Alan Haselhurst Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has understood my ruling. I make it quite clear that he will be out of order if he continues on the same line.

Photo of Harry Cohen Harry Cohen Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I do apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall not do it again.

All these matters show the importance to my area—and many other areas of London—of maintaining the corporation's open spaces commitment. I have, up to now, had no quibble with the policy—other than those little individual ones, about which I shall be writing. However, the little matters also clarify the general issue, which is that we want the common council to maintain and improve the policy. The assurances that I seek are therefore vital. I remain concerned that the franchise change will worsen the situation for those who, like my constituents and others, enjoy open spaces. It is also important to have greater accountability.

Photo of Mr Martin Bell Mr Martin Bell Independent, Tatton 8:09 pm, 24th February 1999

I shall be extremely brief, as I am trying to set an example of brief speeches. No one pays any attention, but I hope that it will assist anyway.

I speak in the debate not because I have any political interests or ambitions in London; my only political ambition is to complete one term as Member of Parliament for Tatton. There are, however, some important issues of democracy in the Bill, and the people of Tatton have shown rather clearly that they care a great deal about that. We are grateful especially to Mr. Matson for pointing out that this is a suggested retreat from the principle of the universal franchise and we should think very seriously before we go along with that retreat.

It has been a long march since the Reform Act 1832, with many difficulties, adversities, stops and obstacles along the way—one of which has been the property qualification. It is strange to see that that remains in any form to this day—yet it does, in that there are 5,000 residents of the City of London who are entitled to vote because they are residents, and 15,000 people who work there who are entitled to vote because they have offices there. It would be bad enough if all we were doing was perpetuating that—but we are extending it. We are proposing to add another 35,000 or 39,000 on an extraordinary principle.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

The hon. Gentleman is well travelled, and has gained his reputation from reporting from cities across the world. Is there any city of which he is aware where the franchise is given to the business vote—not as a business district or as a section of a community overlaid by a democratic body, but in its own right?

Photo of Mr Martin Bell Mr Martin Bell Independent, Tatton

I have covered elections in about 20 different countries and in none of them have I found such an archaic and strange way of voting as that which we are discussing tonight. The proposed system involves a vote for £10,000 of rateable value; two votes for £20,000; three votes for £30,000; 100 votes for £1 million. What is this—votes for sale? Can we not buy them over the counter at Harrods? It is extraordinary, and out of keeping with the kilter of the times.

It is suggested that we are being asked tonight to vote for a world-class City, but that is what we already have. We need a world-class City with democratic institutions from end to end, and that is not on offer in the Bill.

It may be said that the present system, even as amended—and the amendment is worse than the original proposal—is at least quaint and British, and that it sort of works. However, we are saying that about the House of Lords, and the reason we are in the process of ending the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords is because it is undemocratic. The reason we need full democracy in the City of London is because the proposed system is undemocratic. I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members consider the Bill well, and vote as far as is possible in a free vote. The Bill is undemocratic, anti-democratic and oligarchic, and we should have nothing to do with it—except to reject it.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn Labour, Chesterfield 8:12 pm, 24th February 1999

I congratulate the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) on a speech of great charm, skill and knowledge. I congratulate him also on extending the principle of the private finance initiative to the electoral system. With the help of private capital, you can get more voters, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I suppose that I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for not adopting the full principle that instead of an election, a ward councillor's job would be put out to tender. That would be the simplest thing. Then, on polling day, the common clerk would announce the bids that had been submitted. That would save the cost of the election and would introduce a system in line with the philosophy that is becoming more widespread.

I am glad to see my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction on the Front Bench because, knowing as I do Government Front Benchers' commitment to modernisation and democracy, I know that he will advise the House to reject the Bill, for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell). It is an act of brazen effrontery, as we approach the end of the century, to say that voters should be bought and appointed to run a city of such distinction.

The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said that he had a hereditary interest—and so do I. My grandfather was a founder member of the London county council in 1889. I have been looking at what he said at the time, and he said that the city remains socially and municipally isolated, as if it still hated the enemy without its invisible gates and feared contagion from contact with the world. Being a scholarly man, my grandfather referred to the legislation. In 1837, the commission set up to look after the administration of the legislation in various towns said that there was no argument for applying the Act to other towns which did not apply with equal force to London. London was excluded from the legislation. I can go back 160-odd years to argue that the case for reform has always been there. The House is a motorbike with four-wheel brakes—it deals so slowly with any movement that it detects. That is what I fear about the second Chamber. However, I will not go into that at all.

A Select Committee was set up in 1856 and, in 1867, another Select Committee was set up. In 1884, legislation was proposed to unify the City of London with the rest of London. Surely that is not too speedy for the House, even in its present mood. The Home Secretary, Mr. Harcourt—who used to have a dining room here, but lost out to Churchill—said that he could not give London control of the police because of "Irish outrages". Therefore, it was not possible for the Metropolitan police to be controlled by London. Maybe if it had been, we would not have had the Lawrence inquiry, because there would have been some local accountability.

From the beginning, there has been a tremendous struggle to make the City of London not only democratic, but a part of the greater city from which it draws much of its wealth. The commission of 1837 declared that it was unable to discover any circumstances justifying the distinction of the City from the rest of the metropolis". Mr. Asquith—if I may cite some Liberal support in the spirit of consensus politics—said that it was both constitutional law and common sense that the Corporation of the City holds its property and privileges in trust, not for that square mile".

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there is a separate police force, called the City of London police, and that the force is responsible to the police authority, known as the court of common council?

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn Labour, Chesterfield

The problem is that there are two police forces in London. There are the bobbies with the big hats which make them look like Roman centurions, and the Metropolitan police. If the police had been handled as they were in every other city, they would have been accountable to the police authority. The Lawrence case did not arise in the City of London—maybe it would have been different.

In response to a question from the hon. Member for Tower Hamlets on 21 February 1893, the President of the Local Government Board said that the Government intended to appoint a commission to consider the proper conditions under which the amalgamation of the City and the county of London can be effected, and to make specific and practical proposals for that purpose. That was 110 years ago—the man who asked the question was my grandfather. Alas, I did not know him—he died before I was born. However, he would turn in his grave if I did not speak on the matter to which he devoted his life.

In 1894, the royal commission presented its report. It said that it had conceded the whole case for unification, and for the inclusion of the City in the new London. It was proposed that the governing body of London should be elected in the same way as the existing County Council". However, the Government lost office. A new Government came in, and Lord Salisbury—the Salisburys are always in there when skulduggery is to be done—addressed the Conservatives on 7 November 1894 and delivered a violent attack on the London county council. He described it as the place where Collectivist and Socialistic experiments are tried … a place where a new revolutionary spirit finds its instruments and collects its arms. That was before the Labour party was formed. I can understand why Lord Cranborne and others are still at it.

You either believe in one man—or one woman—one vote, based on human rights, or you sell it all off, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, with great charm, advised us that the centre of our great city—our capital city—should be subject to commercial purchase. The hon. Member for Tatton—I think that the Tatton doctrine will go down with the Nolan doctrine and others—said that that was unacceptable.

The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster is such a nice man—he is such a good loser. I hope that he prepares himself to show that talent again when the House votes at 10 o'clock.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 8:20 pm, 24th February 1999

I am happy to follow the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) who, like the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell), has made it clear that the case for the Bill is a difficult one to make.

It is unfortunate that we are having to have such a Gilbertian debate about the government of such an important place. Whatever our view about the outcome, the City of London is hugely important to Britain. I hope that nobody will confuse the ridiculous set of propositions and counter-arguments that we are having to go through with a view that the City is not important and should not continue to be important, in the interests not just of London, but of Britain.

I should declare my interest, although even that too may have become a bit Gilbertian. As a member of a set of chambers in the Temple, although it is outside the City, I am a City of London elector, because tenants of chambers currently get a City business vote. I said somewhere else the other day that I had an interest because I was a voter, and was then telephoned by one of the elected representatives, who told me that I did not appear on this year's electoral roll. My clerk told me that he had left me off by mistake, so I may not be a voter this year, but I am normally a City of London voter and I have sometimes voted.

I have a second interest to declare. My borough and my constituency—Southwark: south walk; south ward—were nearly part of the City. We also should be a city, but that is a separate debate. We further have a lot of interest in the City because many of my constituents live in properties owned by the City of London. They are in the unsatisfactory position of being council tenants, but, like private tenants, being unable to choose the people who are their council landlord. They are, however, grateful—perhaps this is the only point that will offend Labour Members—that the City of London runs its housing stock much better than the London borough of Southwark. Many tenants are happy to live in City of London properties rather than Southwark council properties.

Photo of Mr Gerry Bermingham Mr Gerry Bermingham Labour, St Helens South

I think that I lost my vote when I changed chambers, but I was one of the 15,000 voters in the City of London. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Bill goes through, if two or three major companies get together in any ward, they will be able to control the elected person? If that happens on a large enough scale, the City could be sold over the head of the citizens by the common council, without any recourse to justice.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I shall come to that. The hon. Gentleman's proposition is in the right direction. We should be careful, because the Bill has some worrying aspects, while it also does not contain certain other measures that should be enshrined in law rather than in a document that does not have the force of law.

Picking up on a point of order made by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell), as someone who once took a case to the European Commission of Human Rights and also worked there for a while, I believe that there may well be a case, though not necessarily a winnable one, for claiming that article 3 of the first protocol of the European convention, which says: The High Contracting Parties"— of which this country is one— undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature". could be difficult to uphold properly if the free expression of the opinion of the people who live in the place can be overridden by the free expression of the opinion of people who live outside. I am not saying that such a case would definitely win. I have not taken legal advice on that, but it is an arguable point.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

Is the hon. Gentleman offering to undertake that case on a no win, no fee basis? If so, we shall talk about it later.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The current state of my finances might mean that I would have to negotiate a different arrangement, but the hon. Gentleman was right to raise the issue.

There is no Liberal Democrat whip on the Bill, so I am not speaking on behalf of my party. I am just making a contribution as someone who has followed the issue. My hon. Friends are free to vote or not as they choose.

I should like to put a logical sequence of questions. Should the City of London have its own local government? We have been persuaded, as the Labour party was nationally in recent years, that that is acceptable, reasonable and appropriate.

What sort of local government should the City have? Should it be different from the rest of local government, which has just residents electing the people who administer their affairs? Like the London Labour party, the Liberal Democrats in London have debated the issue and come to conclusions, some of which are central to the debate: the City must have procedures and practices that are transparently democratic and accountable; the electorate and service users must be involved in decision making; and, most importantly, the system should be based on a democratic franchise under which City residents can elect their government, but which recognises that the City is an exceptional case and requires the business community to have some contribution to corporation policy.

Can we have local government for the City that has more than just residents as electors? We believe that the case can be argued. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington made a linked point on that. There is no logical reason why other places in Britain cannot have business voters if the City of London can. There are good reasons why cities such as Glasgow or Birmingham might want similar business votes. There is no reason—other than the historical reason—why the City has different rights from other places.

However, we believe that City of London residents should have the majority say. They do not at the moment and the Bill is defective in that it will not rectify that. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) said, as the chairman of the policy and resources committee—the effective leader of the City council—has also told me, that there has been consultation with residents and that they are happy with what is proposed. I am satisfied that that is true. A system that does not give the majority of votes to residents would, however, be more satisfactory if there had been a proper referendum with a clear, independently scrutinised result. The City might think of doing that.

We had a debate on this issue in a Committee of the whole House on the Greater London Authority Bill a couple of weeks ago. I said that the City's proposals to reform itself—like us, the Labour Government said, "City, reform thyself', and the City has come back with some proposals—are pretty timid. I repeat that: they are pretty timid proposals. Although, on balance, the Bill would make the system slightly better than before, there must be much more change for the system to be a democratic form of local government. I hope that those in the City who support that view will be able to persuade those who do not that they need to change quickly in that direction.

Is the City willing to be braver? The jury is out. There is no suggestion of that in the Bill, but there are other encouraging signs. I thank those in the City and outside who are enlightened enough to realise that considerable further reforms are needed.

What is the effect on residents? Are they being disfranchised by the Bill? They are not. Are they being given less power? The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster correctly said that they are not. I have learnt something about the City in preparing for this debate. It has a strange anomaly; there are 25 wards in the City, four of which currently have a majority of residential votes. Under the proposed reforms, there will still be a majority of residential votes in four wards, so the relative balance of power for the residents will remain the same.

There are also plans, although not in the Bill, to increase the residents' power as against that of businesses, even though—this is one of the Gilbertian circles—the number of businesses and business people with votes increases as a result of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

I listened carefully to the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) when he tried to explain this matter, and I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's explanation, yet I still have some difficulty. If there is a vast increase in the number of electors, and representation on the common council is not based on a specific number of electors, there will be a considerable increase in the number of representatives of the business interest, which will dilute representation of the interests of those who live in the City. How can that be called protecting their interests?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Gentleman is right to ask questions, because the subject becomes almost fiendishly complicated. I do not want to give a seminar on it, but because it is germane, I will try to answer the question in a few sentences.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman would prefer to write to me.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I would rather talk to the hon. Gentleman than write to him.

There is a proposal that the number of business voters should increase, but not the number of people who will be elected. There is another proposal, which is not in the Bill, to reduce the number of councillors. At present, there are more than 100 councillors and aldermen, and the City is already reducing the number of councillors per ward. There is a debate about how far that should go, but I share what I think is the Government's view—that the objective should be that the City council ends up being about the same size as any other local council, with about 50 or 60 people. Greater influence and power can be achieved by allowing residents to elect more of the representatives even while businesses are given the right to have a say in the electoral system.

The business vote change is, on balance, welcome. At present, only sole traders and partners get votes in the City. That group is diminishing: there used to be about 40,000 electors in this group and now there are about 15,000. Many accountants, for example, who would have been partners in the past, are now in companies. If we are to have a business vote at all, it would be nonsense to keep only the present category of business voter.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

It is critical that we understand the hon. Gentleman's mind. As soon as one takes the first step on that path, one accepts the principle of the business vote. There are no compromises on democracy. Either we have one person, one vote or the system is not democratic. What is his view?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

My view is clear: the majority of people elected in the City of London as local government representatives should be elected by residents, but I am prepared to accept that, because of the authority's particular nature, a minority could come from a business franchise. I do not comment on whether that should be limited to the City or whether, if other places wanted to do it, they should be allowed to.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

That is a startling revelation of Liberal Democrat policy. I fear for the hon. Gentleman's leadership chances as a result. He is willing to countenance in his own borough businesses having control in some areas, or having a direct vote on the delivery of services. That is a startling development.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

It is perfectly proper to have a debate on the subject. Personally, I would countenance such a proposal only if the electors, who are the residents, agreed to it by ballot. In my borough, I would countenance some business votes only if the people of Southwark voted for that to be the structure of their council. Ideally, the whole of this debate should have taken place in the context of a debate about local government, so that we could first sort out the rules by which local government is structured before considering specific councils.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

On that logic, if the electorate of the hon. Gentleman's constituency were willing to give a vote to business for his parliamentary election, would he support that? That is the logic of the path down which he is going. We cannot differentiate between elections. Either we have democracy at the local, regional, national and European levels or we do not have it at all. As soon as we trespass on the right of individuals to have a say via the ballot box, we undermine the whole principle and, eventually, the practice.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

We in Parliament should decide about elections to Parliament. I have no doubt at all that the House will retain the view that the only people with the right to vote for Members of Parliament are those who vote on the basis of residence. The debate about whether we should allow business a vote in local elections should start in Parliament, and if Parliament here thought that a sensible option, as some countries do, we could allow it to be implemented. I am not arguing that it is my preferred model, but if the residents of the City of London want a majority resident vote with a minority business vote, I am not prepared to say that they should not be allowed to have it.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

If the majority of the hon. Gentleman's constituents agreed to businesses being able to vote for or against his being elected to Parliament, would he support that? That is the ultimate logic of what he is saying.

In business districts elsewhere, for example in the United States, the system is based not on a business vote, but on an overarching democracy in the city, allowing businesses, largely in an administrative or advisory role, to have some involvement in their area. The ultimate responsibility lies with the overarching authority; and the new strategic body for London will be such an authority.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

There is a difference between deciding how councillors are elected, which could reasonably be left in part to local determination, and deciding how Members of Parliament are elected. How Members of Parliament are elected is clearly a matter for Parliament to decide, or for the electors of the country as a whole to decide by referendum; those are the only two ways of deciding that matter. However, it is perfectly logical to argue that it is for the people of Southwark or those of Hillingdon to have a say in how their local government representatives are elected.

Let me try to link that to the hon. Gentleman's second point. I am not trying to defend the propositions in the Bill. I would not have chosen to start from the Bill; nor do I think that, in logic, it is easy to persuade people to vote for the Bill. However, on the issue of how to arrange business votes, there might be a logical argument in favour of giving certain powers, influence over and contributions to decision making to business, but within a remit that is ultimately controlled only by those who are residential electors. That is a model used in other parts of the world.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn Labour, Chesterfield

To put it crudely, in constituencies or boroughs where there is a Conservative majority, the majority of electors would see the case for a business vote to keep that seat or that council Conservative; but in Labour or Liberal areas, there would be no such advantage, so the case would be rejected. The result would be a two-tier system in which Conservative areas backed by business were always Conservative, but other areas were not. The hon. Gentleman's reading of his speech is taking him back to a Liberal position that has not been seen since the Whigs disappeared.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I am not taking the Liberal Democrats back to any such position. I understand the right hon. Gentleman's points, which is why I said that business votes should be contemplated only if they have first been discussed by Parliament in the context of local government; and only if Parliament agrees the framework should they be agreed to, for exactly the reasons the right hon. Gentleman cites. I am not saying that the proposition is one that is, in logic or in democracy, defensible. However, given the starting point of this Bill, the proposition to allow other than single traders or partners to have a vote is better than keeping the current system. That is all that the Bill is about.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

The trend of the hon. Gentleman's thinking is extremely worrying, and it is greatly to his advantage that none of his Liberal Democrat colleagues are present to hear him—I hope that they do not read Hansard tomorrow. He suggests that it would be open to a majority of residents in a borough or a constituency to vote to dilute the value of their own democratic vote by ceding part of it to the business community, but what about the minority of residents who might vote against such a proposition? Do the majority have the right to undermine the value of their vote and their democratic rights?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I think that I have dealt with that argument by pointing out that the Bill is here, being debated, because it is Parliament that has to decide such matters; Parliament has to set the framework and decide what is acceptable. Under our constitution, lacking a bill of rights or a written constitution, Members of Parliament are the only people who can ensure that the rights of minorities are defended. At the end of the day, it is Parliament which must act, and that is why the Bill is here—in spite of its history and its statutes, the City cannot get proposals through unless it puts them through this place. I should add that I have none the less discovered that some measures, such as boundary changes in the City, can be carried out without their having to pass through the normal processes of Parliament, but that is another matter.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

To complete the circle: when we started, my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) was trying to identify the hon. Gentleman's own position on the concept that he has unveiled to us. If he had the vote in his borough or constituency, would he vote for such a proposition? Would he cast his vote in favour of enfranchising the business community, or against it?

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We should confine our arguments to the subject of the Bill and not stray beyond the boundaries of the City of London.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

To answer the question put by the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley), I would support the retention of the status quo, in which only residents should vote. The only argument that I would make in strong support of the Bill is that, given where we start from, it is better that there is a slightly wider electoral base than currently exists. That is the only proposition that can be advanced if the Bill is the only measure put before us and if it represents one inch of movement in the right direction. However, I hope that I have made it clear that, if the City is not bolder than is shown in the Bill, it will be in trouble before long.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's generosity in giving way. I have not tried to pin him down before, but I fear that I must do so now. The Bill would clearly extend and confirm the right of the business vote, which goes against every tradition of the hon. Gentleman's party since its foundation in the philosophy of liberalism and individualism. Does he support the Bill?

I believe that the Bill is unamendable and that we may well ask for another Bill, one that can be properly debated and discussed. The element—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Gentleman is making speeches during his interventions. Interventions should be brief.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I shall answer the hon. Gentleman's question and then endeavour not to give way again, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I clearly expressed my view during the Committee stage on the Floor of the House of the Greater London Authority Bill. My personal view is that the Bill does not represent sufficiently adequate reform; the City should go away and come back with a different Bill, because the current one does not meet the test of democracy. However, the Bill is here and the question we have to ask is whether or not it is amendable in Committee, if it gets that far. I shall not be a member of the Committee; nor will the hon. Gentleman.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the hon. Member for Tatton asked who would get the business vote. It is difficult to defend the proposals in the Bill that would allow votes to be dished out by business with no legal control over that process.

I have made my position clear to the City, which must come up with rules. The guidance is to be improved, but, without the power of statute, any system to control the mechanism ensuring fair voting seems to me to be one that could leave voting in the hands of a very small number of people.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

In a second. As the Bill stands, that small number of people could be made up only of directors, or rich people, or men—all unacceptable propositions that would have to be amended.

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Labour, Dudley South

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Does he agree that the City of London is unique, and that separate franchise arrangements can and should apply? Does he also agree that the City's financial institutions are Britain's only world-class industry cluster? We must think very seriously about any proposals to change that. On balance, although I accept that the Bill, in many respects, is defective, should we not consider giving it a Second Reading and then amending it in Committee, given that we need to modernise arrangements?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Commons), Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The hon. Gentleman has identified the central question. Will the Bill, as drafted, improve people's participation in voting in the City, or will it make it worse? I repeat what I have said already: the Bill is an improvement because it gives the little newsagent and the City firm a chance to have a say, whereas before they had no say. However, I hope that the City comes up with something more because the Bill is still not good enough to pass the democratic test.

The Bill also does not deal with ward boundaries, or with the fact that some wards have fewer than 100 electors, but my final point has to do with the aldermen. No qualification is necessary for that position: if I understand the Bill correctly, a person could live in Cornwall and still become an alderman. However, the Lord Mayor of London can be chosen only from among the company of aldermen. That is entirely indefensible. The City has improved matters a bit recently, by providing that aldermen are elected only for six years, rather than for life. However, I do not think that anyone could defend the proposition that the senior representative of the council—its figurehead—should be selected only from a group of people who have so little in the way of electoral justification. I hope that the City deals with that, too.

It is clear from the debate that, although the Bill's sponsor, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), may win the vote, the argument has not been won. I do not think that it can be easily won. As the right hon. Member for Chesterfield said, if we are reforming the House of Lords, introducing devolution to other parts of the country and trying to modernise the constitution, the City of London must realise that it cannot go on in this way, and that it cannot expect to persuade the House with a proposition that is so timid and still so far from being democratically acceptable.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch 8:49 pm, 24th February 1999

I, too, oppose the Bill. I found the speech by the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) absolutely extraordinary. He took his party's views on democratic representation back to the era before that of Earl Grey, who saw the great Reform Bill through Parliament.

I was also amazed by the intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson). He seemed to want to take us back to an era before the Labour party even existed. When we challenge the principle of one person, one vote, and hand power and votes to people because they have property or a certain amount of wealth, we start to undermine the whole democratic process.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), who once aspired to be the Liberal Democrat party's mayoral candidate for London, should take democracy in London so lightly?

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey is fortunate that no other Liberal Democrats are in the Chamber because his speech was quite extraordinary.

I may be called a sentimental old fool, but I have always believed in democratic accountability and in one person, one vote.

Photo of Ian Pearson Ian Pearson Labour, Dudley South

I do not want to stop the flow of my hon. Friend's Liberal bashing, but he referred to my earlier intervention and I wanted to make it clear that my view is that the City of London is a unique institution for which unique arrangements might apply. I would by no means support any arrangement other than one person, one vote for any other franchise.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch

I support nothing but one person, one vote anywhere, at any time, under any circumstances.

The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) seemed to argue that the City is unique in part because of its radical history. It is true that the City once had a radical tinge when the coffee shops were radical centres. It was so, for example, during the campaign to abolish slavery.

However, things have changed a bit since then. Two hundred years ago, the City was not full of toffs in red braces, driving Porches and moving large amounts of money around the globe. The City is no longer a radical centre. Far from it; it is a centre for wealth, privilege and power. I have always seen the City as one of the great bulwarks of the unfair capitalist society, to coin a phrase that is none too fashionable these days. The City has stood in the way of every reforming Labour Government, and even in the way of a few reforming Liberal Governments.

Despite what the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey said, changing the franchise to reduce, as the Bill would, the residents' share from 25 to 10 per cent. would be an attack on democracy. I do not think the present system worth defending; we should get rid of the corporation completely. However, to reduce the residents' franchise would be to extend the power of wealth, privilege and business in the City.

A minimum rateable value of £10,000 would entitle companies to one voter, and they could have another one for every additional f10,000. That is indefensible under any circumstances. Those who would nominate the voter would not have to be resident in Britain. They could be resident anywhere. It could be that a business man in the City who was resident in Peru could nominate a voter who was resident in Sri Lanka.

My main objection is not residency, however. The real objection is that political power will be distributed according to wealth. That takes us back to before the great Reform Act of 1832. Earl Grey—hardly a radical figure, ready to man the barricades on behalf of working people—managed to get that Act through because the system was so patently unfair. I have looked over some figures from before 1832 to judge how much power individuals wielded. The Society of the Friends of the People estimated in the 1800s that 154 individuals sent 307 Members of Parliament to Westminster. That might go down well on the Tory Benches; it would certainly give them an edge at the next election.

A Tory Member of Parliament, Croker, estimated in the late 1820s that 276 Members of Parliament—which was about half the House of Commons in those days—were returned by individual patrons. We are reverting to that sort of system, whereby a handful of individuals could potentially control thousands of votes on the City corporation.

I am concerned about the cosy relationship between the Tory party and the City—my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) mentioned that earlier in a point of order. I wonder how many Tory Members who will vote for the Bill tonight have close connections with certain City companies. The Tory party has always had a cosy relationship with the City and its institutions: banks, corporations, and so on. That relationship became much closer in the 1980s when the then Conservative Government passed legislation that gave great breaks to those corporations—the big bang, for instance—and allowed even greater profits to be made.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. We must discuss the Bill before us, not events in the City. The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) should keep his remarks within the scope of the Bill.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was simply drawing attention to certain connections that I hope will be apparent tonight. I hope that Tory Members who speak in the debate will be honest about their interests in the City.

Several defences of the Bill have been offered, but none of them holds water. The documentation that I have received from the Corporation of London does not attempt to defend the Bill. It simply says that the present system is pretty awful so we must move to a different system that is not quite as bad. I believe that the proposal this evening is even worse.

Surprisingly, the Association of London Government thinks that the Bill is worthy of support. That came as an enormous shock. The association wrote to me—I suppose it wrote to quite a few hon. Members—and said, in defence of the Bill, that the Corporation of London has contributed financial and administrative support to many London-wide initiatives, including the London Study, the Agenda 21 process and the London Drugs Policy Forum. We could mount a similar defence of hereditary peers by saying that a few of them are quite nice old boys who donate a lot of money to homes for retired donkeys and other causes.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way as I think it is important to clarify this point. I am happy to suspend the sitting so that we may ask the Chair of the Association of London Government, Lord Harris. The correspondence from the ALG on this issue makes no reference to any leaders or boroughs meetings that have endorsed the policy. Does my hon. Friend know whether the boroughs have met to discuss the matter? When the ALG discussed business districts, the London boroughs of Westminster, Wandsworth and every other Conservative authority threw out the idea. They prevented the Association of London Government from promoting business districts in the London Local Authorities Bill. I wonder about the authority of the letter from the ALG.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch

That is an interesting intervention. I was not aware that there had been no meeting to discuss the Bill.

It has been argued in defence of the Bill that there is some sort of link between the prosperity and wealth of the City and the corporation and that, if we do not keep the corporation sweet, we might lose some of that money. I have always believed that we should intervene in the City and redistribute its wealth to the people who naturally support the Labour party. Leaving that issue aside, there is no substantive link between the corporation and the success of the City. There is no link between the corporation's happiness or the way in which the franchise works and the kind of wealth that is produced by the City. More importantly—this is a crucial point for many of my constituents—there is no link with jobs in the City. I do not believe that there will be a huge capital flight from the City because we have insisted on a bit of democracy for a change.

I assume that this three-hour debate is in Government time. I am amazed that they found time for a debate on this Bill, which is an affront to democracy, when we have not had time to debate other Bills that many of us have been keen to get involved with. I believe that the City of London corporation should be abolished, which was Labour party policy for many years; its wealth should be put at the disposal of the wider Greater London population. Tower Hamlets and Islington are very poor boroughs which sit on the border of an immensely rich corporation with wealth approaching £1.5 billion, if memory serves. That money should be put at the disposal of the poorer people in London in those boroughs. It does not look like that will happen now, but I would like it to.

Photo of Diane Abbott Diane Abbott Labour, Hackney North and Stoke Newington

My hon. Friend makes a good point about the City's enormous wealth, which is not related to its system of local governance. That wealth could do much good in the adjoining borough of Hackney, which is my borough.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. Perhaps we could keep within the limits of the City of London. Hon. Members go wide of the Bill if they talk about other boroughs and their poverty.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch

I will bear that in mind, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction a question. Labour's document, "New Leadership for London", concerns the creation of a Greater London authority. Among other things, it said that the Government's objective is restoring democratic city-wide Government to London". How does that sit with the creation of the authority envisaged by the Bill, which will vest more political power in the hands of the wealthy and those who own property and land in the City of London?

We should remember, particularly as Labour Members, that, except in the City, the business vote was effectively abolished in the 1940s by the Clement Attlee Government. If Attlee came back today, he would be amazed that we were debating this Bill and even considering putting it through Parliament. My hon. Friends should bear that in mind.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne 9:02 pm, 24th February 1999

I am pleased to have the chance to make a brief intervention in this fascinating debate to make the point—

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

When I have made some progress-like finishing my first sentence. The Opposition support the measure and wish it a fair wind because we acknowledge the role of the City of London in our economy and in our country generally. We support the corporation in its intention to extend the franchise in its governance.

I should declare an interest. I have worked in the City since 1976 as a solicitor involved in maritime and commercial matters. I am a member of the Baltic Exchange. I have seen at first hand how crucial the City is to the economic success of our country and seen something of its history and traditions. It is the world's leading international financial centre. I am not one of those affected by the legislation. I do not have a vote under the existing system and would not have one if the Bill became law.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

What did the hon. Gentleman find fascinating about the debate? Was it the Liberal Democrat commitment to the business vote? Was it the fundamental analysis of how anti-democratic this institution is, or were there other elements that fascinated him? What I find fascinating is that he has registered an interest in the matter yet has the effrontery to speak in the debate. How dare hon. Members speak in the Chamber when they have an interest in defending an interest. I find that obscene.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I was in the Chamber when the hon. Gentleman raised the question of Members' interests. It is for the hon. Gentleman speaking to declare an interest. That has been done, and there is therefore no reason why the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) cannot take part in this debate. It is within the rules of the House.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Of course it is within the rules of the House, but in local government, a declaration of interest usually means—

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. That is not a point of order. The hon. Member accepts that such conduct is within the rules of the House. I am here to look after those rules.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) may have noticed that I declared an interest. If he is suggesting otherwise, perhaps he would like to repeat that outside the House. I understand that he has some experience of the civil courts.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was very explicit in saying that the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) had declared an interest. I did not accept that he should continue to speak. I accept the rules of the House, and ask him to withdraw his comment.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

As far as I am concerned, the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) was in order. It is up to him whether he wants to withdraw any comment. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

If I can, I shall make my speech, which was intended to be short.

How depressing it has been to listen to some Labour Members. Obviously, they were not around when their right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry recently lectured the Labour party on the importance of wealth creation rather than wealth redistribution. Were those bold words merely skin deep to some Labour Members?

We have certainly had a stroll down memory lane. We have heard the authentic voice of old Labour: a deep-seated hostility to enterprise, business and, above all, the City. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) unwittingly revealed the prejudice that lies beneath all this when he said that some Conservative constituencies want a business vote in order to remain under Conservative control, whereas, of course, a Labour constituency would never want such a vote. Leaving aside the fantasy behind that suggestion, it indicates the notion among old Labour that it would never want to be associated with business and the City.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

No, I will not give way.

The honourable exception in the debate has been the hon. Member for Dudley, South (Mr. Pearson), who has some knowledge and experience of these matters, and spoke up for the success of the City of London in our economy.

We heard a little from my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) about the history of the matter, going back to the charter of Edward III in 1341. We also rightly heard about the massive contribution that the City makes to this country's economic well-being. In 1997, there were net overseas earnings of £25 billion. In addition, the City contributes £12 billion surplus to the country's balance of invisible trade.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

Hopefully, I shall draw the hon. Gentleman back into the debate. I think that everyone in the Chamber would accept the capacity of the City to generate wealth. Indeed, as a Labour Member, I am acutely aware of my constituents' interests in their connections with, and as employees in, the City. The issue before us is the commitment to reform and democratise City institutions. The basis of our debate is whether the Bill satisfies that requirement.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for indicating common ground between us on the success and importance of the City. I promise him that I am coming to the points that he has raised.

The City of London corporation has undertaken widespread consultation on its proposals through City Review and in other ways. It has published a rather excellent leaflet, "Improving the City's Franchise", which makes several telling points in the context of the Bill. It talks of the need for the corporation to be constantly … attuned to the needs of the business City", and the fact that businesses pay considerable sums towards the cost of local government. The corporation states: We believe that a corporate voting system is a natural development of the existing system". There is also discussion of the nature of a commuter vote. One reason why the City is totally different from anywhere else and cannot be regarded as a local authority in the traditional sense is that while it may have about 5,000 adult residents, some 250,000 people go there every day to earn their living. How are they to be given any say in the running of their place of work?

I do not remember which hon. Member intervened on the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) to ask whether any other city in the world has such a system, but interestingly, the leaflet describes similar systems in Melbourne and Sydney, and there are examples in other parts of Australia and New Zealand.

A recent MORI poll in the City showed that 83 per cent. of City businesses are strongly in favour of extending the vote to businesses and corporate bodies, and a further 9 per cent. are in favour.

As I have said, the City is successful partly because it is special and different.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

I want to find out how close the hon. Gentleman's views are to the Liberal Democrat proposition. He said that there is a massive influx of commuters into the City of London, which heavily outweighs the residential population of 5,000, and therefore it is not unreasonable that commuters should be considered in the corporation's affairs. Would he extend that proposition to the many other cities and boroughs, such as Westminster, the population of which is swelled by commuter traffic every day? Does he agree with the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)? That proposition would undermine the democratic principle not only in the unique setting of the City of London, but in every employment-generating borough in the country.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that on this issue, as on every other, any similarity between my views and those of the Liberal Democrats is entirely coincidental.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

Will he answer my question?

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Conservative, Eastbourne

The special nature and distinctive quality of the City was recognised by Lord Callaghan as long ago as 1969, when the non-residential vote was abolished. The then Labour Government recognised that the City required a business vote because it is primarily a place for doing business. A figure almost as Olympian as Lord Callaghan, the Minister for London and Construction, who will respond to the debate, referred in December 1997 to the Lord Mayor continuing to act as a marvellous ambassador internationally for the City and, indeed, for London's financial sector. He made further flattering remarks about the role of the City of London.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) referred with horror to the Association of London Government's support for the measure. We have all received the same letter from the association, in which it says: The Association recognises the unique nature of the Corporation of London and agrees that special electoral arrangements need to apply to the governance of the 'square mile'. We agree with that. The provision sensibly extends the franchise in the City of London and it has our support.

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North 9:13 pm, 24th February 1999

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak when I had to miss such a large part of the debate because I had other business with a Minister.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, but I am far from pleased that it is necessary. I start from the premise that as a democratically elected MP, it is my responsibility to try to ensure that the best democratic standards are upheld at all times. The Bill not only negates that principle, but would perniciously amend existing legislation.

Since the great Reform Act of 1832, there has been constant progress through universal suffrage and general improvements in voting procedures which has led to our position today. We can all be proud of that, except for the situation in one small part of Britain.

I apologise to the many London Members present who may not be called to speak because I have had my few minutes. I apologise because I realise that they must feel as angry as I do about the fact that the Bill is before the House. What is worse, I am almost 300 miles away from the City. We are not speaking of the democratic deficit; we are speaking about a system that is fundamentally undemocratic and anti-democratic, and the Bill will make matters worse.

I have heard many good things said tonight. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) struck a chord with me when he spoke about democracy. I am speaking about democracy and nothing else. I have no interest in speaking for or against the corporation or the City of London. They exist, they do a job, and I have no strong feelings one way or the other. However, I feel that they should have no part in the democratic process in the place in which they are situated.

I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction on the Front Bench. I should like my Government to introduce a Bill to bring the corporation and City of London into the same democratic procedures as we have everywhere else in this land. I invite my hon. Friend to do so.

It is not unusual for me to be mildly critical of my Government when I speak in the House. That is part of the democratic process. I would much rather the time of the House tonight had been spent dealing with a Bill such as the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, or some other matter of real importance to the people of Britain.

I feel both angry and sad—sad that we have to debate the issue, and angry because of what it stands for. I do not imagine that many of my constituents are aware of the circumstances of the corporation and City of London and the totally undemocratic process by which they are governed. I shall try to make sure that they get to know a little more, as it is as important to them and to people in every other constituency as it is to the people of London, although I accept that it is more annoying to London Members. From what I have heard tonight, it is clear that they are much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am, but their feelings about democracy are no stronger.

Several hon. Members have said that there is nothing comparable in other democratic countries. I believe that that is correct. I have heard a special case being pleaded, and I am always wary when I hear about a special case, because it is usually a matter of vested interests and attempts to take people's minds off the main issue. The main issue in this case has nothing to do with the wealth-creating abilities or otherwise of the corporation or the City of London, and everything to do with democracy and what people in this country expect.

From what I have heard said by Opposition Members, it seems that if people work somewhere, they should be entitled to a vote there, because they should have a say in the place where they work. When I worked at the colliery, I did not expect to have a vote where the colliery was. I had one where I resided. That should be the cornerstone of all democracy. A vote should be based on where one resides. Are we saying that people who have a caravan should have a vote in the place where their caravan is sited? That is the analogy with the City of London.

I hope that every Labour Member will vote against the Bill, because the democratic situation will be worsened if the Bill goes through. Others will use it as an example. People will say, "Why can we in the north-east not have two votes? Can I not have a vote where I have my little corner shop? Can I not have a vote where I work?" The cornerstone of democracy is one person, one vote, in one place. That is paramount.

I am employed in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), who introduced the Bill. I would not expect to have a vote in his constituency. I do not expect to have a vote in Sunderland, where I also have an office. I expect one vote, and one vote only. If I were offered more, I would turn down the offer, because that would be fundamentally wrong. That is what the Bill is about—giving a certain number of people extra voting power. Once we go down the line of giving one person one vote and others more than one vote, we shall start seriously to undermine this country's democratic processes.

The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster must be proud that he has this palace within his constituency. However, it is ironic that the mother of Parliaments—we should all be proud of the fact that this place stands for everything that is best as far as democracy is concerned—is within shouting distance of a place where attempts are being made by Opposition Members to negate the democratic process. That is the issue at stake.

I warn all hon. Members that if the Bill is passed, it will be the start of a slippery slope, because it will be noticed and others will want the same rights. It is not anti-business to say that it is wrong for business people to have more than one vote. I remember the problems caused in Northern Ireland by the property vote. Some hon. Members know more about that than I because they were here when it existed. I have talked to people who believe in property votes; they want an advantage.

There is no reason to apologise for saying that it is totally wrong for people to expect to have a voting influence because of where they work. There may be exceptions, for example someone who owns a public house and also lives in it, so it is their business and home. Voting rights should be based on residence and nothing else—one person, one vote, where the person resides. Those who seek to move away from that do everyone a great disservice.

I am surprised at the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. He is almost a doyen to me in terms of democracy and courtesy. I cannot understand why such a thoroughly decent person would put his name to such a pernicious, insidious and invidious Bill. I say once again to my hon. Friend the Minister, let us see a little bit of democracy and some modernisation. Let us have the democratic powers of the corporation of London taken away from it, so that it gets on with what it does best—the business of creating and distributing money. It is not always distributed how I would like, but I recognise that that is what it does, and that is all it should do. Businesses have plenty of influence within local authorities and this House. That should not be added to by allowing them to have additional votes.

I have brought with me just three pieces of correspondence. The first is from the parliamentary agents of the Bill, a good organisation that I had a lot to do with on the Channel Tunnel Bill. It does that organisation no good to be introducing this Bill. The second correspondence is from the London Labour party, which all my hon. Friends should support. It deals with this problem day in, day out—it must be terrible to have to live with it.

The third piece of correspondence is from Malcolm J. Maxton, of London EC2Y, whom I thank for drawing this matter to my attention. Although I remember reading about it years ago, so I was vaguely aware of it, I must admit ignorance. I did not know how dreadful the democratic position was in that part of London and I am pleased that I have learnt about it. I hope that the Bill will be defeated tonight.

Photo of Humfrey Malins Humfrey Malins Conservative, Woking 9:24 pm, 24th February 1999

First, I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and the House, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) for being a little late for the start of this debate. No discourtesy was intended. I shall speak very briefly because other hon. Members want an opportunity to speak.

I support the Bill because it will give the business community in the City a voice in its local government and enable voters to represent more accurately the various interests in the City. May I make a couple of narrow points? First, I believe that the present distribution of the electorate around the wards in the City is grossly unsatisfactory.

Perhaps I should declare an interest: my brother, Julian Malins, who is a barrister and Queen's Counsel, is the senior counsellor for the Temple and Fleet street, and for the whole of the Smithfield market area. His electorate numbers more than 8,000 and there is a contested election almost every year. Another ward has about 2,000 electors, but the remaining 23 wards have extremely small electorates, some of which are too embarrassing to mention because the number is so low. Three wards have fewer than 100 electors. Although each ward will have larger numbers after the proposed reforms, the smaller wards will still be far too small and there will still be one ward that is hugely bigger than all the rest.

Although the City of London corporation has the power to alter the ward boundaries, that power cannot deal with the gross imbalance in the numbers. Whatever way the boundaries are altered, there is no way that 6,000 voters in the Temple and Fleet street can be spread around the other wards. The court of common council recognised that. It debated the Bill in autumn 1997 and—on an amendment tabled by my brother—voted to seek from the House the power for the council to reduce the number of wards from 25, which was too many, to a more sensible number—perhaps 12.

Such a motion was passed by the elected councillors, by 44 votes to 34, but voted down by the aldermen, by 18 votes to two. The aldermen do not want the council to have exclusive power to amalgamate wards—although only the court of common council should have such a power and the aldermen should be excluded from it—because, then, the number of aldermen might, and probably would, be reduced. Although I support the Bill, I hope that the House will look carefully at the distribution of the electorate in the City and provide a power to ameliorate that by the amalgamation of wards.

If necessary—although I trust that it will not come to this—the council's power could include the power to have two aldermen, or more, for the amalgamated wards. I hope that such a compromise will not be needed, because, as a further beneficial result of simple ward amalgamations, the present balance in numbers between the aldermen and the councillors, which would move adversely to the councillors if the Bill were passed unchanged, will remain. I will support the Bill's Second Reading.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions) 9:27 pm, 24th February 1999

It may be helpful at this point to give the House the Government's view on the Bill. As hon. Members have already pointed out, the City corporation is a unique institution for a unique place—the premier financial centre of Europe. The City is almost entirely a business district, with a resident population of barely 5,000—about a thirtieth of the population of the smallest London borough—and, because of that, the City corporation has a different role from that of other local authorities.

The City corporation has also shown, particularly in recent years, that it has a valuable contribution to make to the success of London as a world-class city. For example, it promotes inward investment, helps to finance schemes and studies for the benefit of London as a whole and manages open spaces such as Epping forest and Hampstead heath.

The Lord Mayor, Lord Levene, who has had a distinguished career in business and public service, has made clear his and the City corporation's commitment to build on that positive contribution, particularly in the context of the new structure of London governance being put into place by the Greater London Authority Bill. His commitment has been matched by that of Judith Mayhew, the chair of the City's policy and resources committee, who is listening to the debate. She has been a powerful advocate for modernisation of the City corporation's structure and role.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I echo what my hon. Friend has said about the work that Michael Cassidy and Judith Mayhew have done over the years to encourage the backwoodsmen on the common council to accept some reform, and I look forward to welcoming them in the Labour party. However, can he say, in all honesty and without shame, that the Bill, not other proposals that may be made subsequently, is a step forward for democracy—the democracy to which our party has committed itself since its foundation? Can he, hand on heart, say that the Bill is a step forward, when it increases the business vote and reduces the percentage of the residents' vote?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend about the current chair and her predecessor on the City's policy and resources committee. If he will bear with me, I shall make clear the Government's view of the context of the Bill, and the way in which it can, we think, make a useful contribution to a programme of reform in the City—a programme introduced in response to a challenge issued by the Government before our election in 1997. I shall elaborate on that shortly.

The Government welcome the commitment to reform in the City. Although the current structures and electoral arrangements for the City corporation are in many respects wholly anachronistic, we have made clear our view that we do not think it right to abolish the corporation. We reached that view in the full knowledge of the corporation's assurance that it would continue its work promoting inward investment and the interests of London as a whole. Our decision was also made on the basis of the corporation's assurance that it had accepted the requirement for it to respond to the need for it to reform its electoral arrangements. The Bill is one part—only one part—of the response that the corporation promised. It is part of the corporation's agenda, designed to modernise its structure and electoral arrangements.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) asked how the Government's commitment to the establishment of citywide democratic government in London married with the Bill. I have partly answered my hon. Friend's question already, but I owe it to him to clarify what I said earlier. Before the last general election, the Government, then in opposition, made clear their commitment to restore democratic citywide government to London, thus putting right a serious wrong that was done 13 years ago when a Conservative Government abolished the Greater London council. At the same time, we made it clear that we did not intend to abolish the City corporation, but expected it to produce proposals for reform.

Photo of Mr Tony Benn Mr Tony Benn Labour, Chesterfield

Just before the election, the Labour party was asked to adopt a new constitution stating that it committed itself to the many, not the few. The Bill allows the few to buy more votes from the many, and I cannot believe that the Government could ask the House to accept it in any circumstances.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My right hon. Friend argued earlier that the problem was that the Bill increased the number of people with the business vote, which seems to me to represent the many rather than, as it were, the less many; but I shall pass over that. The key issue is whether the corporation should, because it has a special and unique role, have a constitutional arrangement for the election of members of the common council that is different from the arrangement applying to every other part of the United Kingdom. Had we intended to abolish the corporation, it would unquestionably have come to an end; but, before the general election, we made clear our commitment not to abolish the corporation, but to seek reform of it.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My hon. Friend has intervened many times throughout the debate, and I want to make a little more progress.

The City presented its proposals for reform following extensive consultation and debate between September 1997 and February last year. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke)—who spoke with characteristic wit and erudition, and who has taken a close interest in the process—referred to that consultation, which covered key City interests, businesses, residents and various bodies, and involved the three main national political parties.

The resulting package of reforms was agreed by the City last September. It included not only the extension of the franchise in the Bill, but a number of other reforms to the City's procedures and decision-making structures.

The City have introduced a period of office for aldermen, so that they will no longer hold their positions for life and will have to seek re-election at least once every six years. The infamous aldermanic veto whereby the Court of Aldermen could prevent a properly elected alderman from taking office has been abolished and replaced by a more open vetting procedure based solely on qualification for the magistracy.

The City has also set in train some important structural changes, including reducing the size of the court of common council. Until recently, that comprised 155 members–130 common council men and 25 aldermen. It does seem curious that one of the smallest local authorities in the country in terms of area and population should have the largest number of members of any local authority—larger even than the largest local authority in Britain, Birmingham, which manages with 117 councillors.

Even more stark is the contrast with the composition of the new Greater London authority, which, for a population of upwards of 7 million, will have to make do with a single mayor and just 25 assembly members. Therefore, I am pleased that the City corporation has recognised the need to reduce the size of the common council. It is already cutting it to 125 members and aldermen and has agreed to reduce the number further—to 100—following the passage of the Bill.

The Bill, along with the other reforms to which I have alluded, are a step in the right direction. Further improvements will also be possible. Those could include the review of the ancient ward boundaries and the allocation of members between the wards to overcome a number of anomalies, as identified by the hon. Member for Woking (Mr. Malins).

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North

I have a predicament, and I hope that my hon. Friend will bear with me. May I go back and tell my constituents that it is now Labour party policy to allow employers and property owners to appoint electors for local elections in areas where they do not reside?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My hon. Friend made a passionate speech in defence of democracy. I would not disagree with much of what he said. If asked by electors and residents in his area, I would urge him to say openly that what we have been discussing has been a reform of an ancient institution that, for hundreds of years, has enabled people to vote on the basis of a business franchise. In place of procedures that are riddled with anomalies—whereby several people can vote on several occasions, pluralism is rampant, and where the distinctions under which people are entitled to a business vote bear no relationship to the current pattern of business in that community—we want a Bill that proposes a reform of that business franchise.

I accept that many of my hon. Friends have strong reservations about the concept of any business vote at all. I fully understand that, but I put it to hon. Friends, who have spoken passionately, that we are dealing with the reform of an existing institution that has a history of several hundred years.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

Had we intended to abolish the institution altogether, it would have been appropriate for us to say so before the general election. We did not do that. We gave an undertaking before the general election—[Interruption.] The Prime Minister gave an undertaking before the general election that Labour, if elected, would work with the City corporation to reform its institutions. That is exactly what the Government are doing.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We gave undertakings before the general election. I hope that all my right hon. and hon. Friends will accept that it is right for a Government to honour their undertakings and to act in accordance with the undertakings that they gave before they were elected.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

I accept my hon. Friend's statement on our commitment before the general election. Today, therefore, we have to decide whether the Bill matches that commitment on reform and democratisation. Is the Minister saying that it does?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. If he will bear with me, I shall deal in a moment with precisely that point.

I was describing what had been achieved, and saying that, in the Government's view, further reform would be beneficial in achieving a more equitable distribution of voters and elected representatives.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

No; I have already given way, and should make a little more progress.

I hope that the City corporation will take full advantage of the opportunity to improve further its democratic credentials by pursuing those and other reforms.

The corporation's proposal to extend the franchise is certainly novel. It seeks to recognise the special circumstances and unique demographic structure in the City, and it seeks to recognise the benefits that can be realised by including a much wider range of interests in the local decision-making structure. It includes also significant reform of current arrangements under which certain businesses and professional interests are included within the franchise on a basis that reflects past rather than current patterns of commercial activity and property ownership in the City. Those who have criticised the proposed reform must recognise that the status quo is simply not defensible. If the Bill does not progress further today, the status quo will prevail.

The Government welcome the fact that the City is beginning to face up to the need to put governance of the City on a more modern footing, so that it represents more accurately the various interests in the square mile. The Committee will be by far the best place to consider the Bill fully—to consider the substance, to examine the detail and to hear expert evidence. I have no doubt that, if many of the views—which are strongly held ones and have been passionately expressed in this debate—on the respective merits of different forms of electoral arrangements are properly debated and considered in Committee, the Bill can be both changed and improved.

Photo of Mr Peter Bradley Mr Peter Bradley Labour, The Wrekin

Surely the Bill should not proceed to Committee, as it is wrong not only in practice but in principle. If the Government were applying the same principle to reform of the House of Lords—which we are not—surely we would be arguing that we should leave hereditary peers in the other place, and somehow reduce their proportionate power by selling places in the other place to business.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I have already ruled that we cannot go beyond the scope of this Bill.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

I crave your indulgence, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in drawing one parallel in responding to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Bradley). The Government pledged in our manifesto that we would reform the other place, and we are doing that. We pledged also that we would seek reform in the City rather than abolition of the City. If the Bill receives a Second Reading today, reform will be possible. If it does not receive a Second Reading today, the current arrangement—which is fundamentally unsatisfactory—will remain in place. I do not think that anyone who believes that we should be seeking reform and modernisation could justify that.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions)

No; I am finishing.

I hope, therefore, that the Bill will be given a Second Reading, and will be allowed to proceed in the conventional way to Committee for the detailed consideration that I believe it needs and deserves.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham 9:44 pm, 24th February 1999

I apologise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), for my late arrival. May I welcome to the Dispatch Box my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and say that we look forward to many equally impressive occasions with my hon. Friend?

I am possibly unique in the Chamber. Not only do I share with the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) the pleasure of having West Wickham common in my constituency, but, for 17 years, I have lived in the City. I am one of those potentially rare people—a resident of the City of London. I have lived in two wards—Cripplegate and Aldersgate. I can recommend highly living in the Barbican—the City is a pleasant place to be. My husband worked in the City, but is now retired—I am pleased to say, due to his success in business.

When I was the chairman of the Conservatives in the City of London—on behalf of my right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster—we fought European parliamentary and general elections. However, we never fought elections for common council, because those elections—and there always was a contest—were for independent representatives. All residents knew that there was a distinct imbalance between the vast number who were able to vote in wards with residents and the appallingly few voters in most of the other wards. Therefore, I welcome the proposal to increase the number of voters in the other wards.

It is very important that a degree of democracy is brought to what is a unique institution. I agree with the Minister that we must ensure that there is a much better balance between the views of the residents and the views of business. At present, the views of business come from a narrow constituency, and the increase proposed by the corporation will modernise the voting role in the City.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind, because I know that others wish to speak.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) pointed out that we are not depriving the residents of a vote. In fact, in percentage terms—and with the City's other proposals—we will ensure that there is an increase in their representation.

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) has made quite a contribution through interventions. He cannot speak from a sedentary position—it is unfair.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

It was obvious to residents of the City that we needed to widen the franchise, and to ensure that there was a much more representative basis for the common councillors. The corporation was very responsive on the matters affecting the residents, such as planning, traffic and environmental matters, and I cannot speak too highly of it.

I should like to reiterate to the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead that, although this matter is not in the Bill, it is governed by the Representation of the People Acts, as amended by the Maastricht treaty, so that the only people who can be chosen by businesses either to go on the electoral register or to stand for election are those who have been able to vote in local government elections in the UK. Foreign people with no interest in the City will not be able to stand.

We have seen enormous confusion tonight among those who are opposed to the Bill: those who wish to go back to a residents-only basis—in which case, there would be an even smaller voting population than at present in terms of businesses—those who favour the status quo and those who want to abolish the system altogether. On behalf of the City corporation—[Interruption.]

Photo of Michael Martin Michael Martin Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. The House must come to order. An hon. Member is addressing the House and there are too many private conversations going on. There are even private conversations going on at the moment below the Gangway. That is wrong and unfair.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

There is enormous confusion in the aims and objectives of those who oppose the Bill, but those of us who support it are unanimous that the corporation needs to be reformed in the way proposed.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Labour, Regent's Park and Kensington North 9:50 pm, 24th February 1999

I shall be very brief, because I know that the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) wants to reply to the debate. I am also conscious of the fact that most of my arguments have been made eloquently and powerfully by others.

As my hon. Friend the Minister said, the City was given a clear message about the need for reform. It has responded with one or two concessions outwith the Bill on the election of aldermen and the end of the veto. However, the Bill merely modernises the business vote qualification. That is a tragic missed opportunity. Those who have spoken in favour of the Bill have missed the point. The issue is the distribution of the franchise and the representation that each vote buys.

In his very eloquent introduction, the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster admitted that the share of the franchise held by residents would fall from 25 to 10 per cent. He advised us that they would maintain their representation because of the ward system. That is not good enough, although I accept that the argument is technically correct. We had some discussion about that earlier.

The argument is not good enough, partly because it is not enshrined in the Bill, so we have no guarantee. The Bill also does nothing to ensure progress towards greater democracy for residents. Progress could have been demonstrated by a significant shift towards improving the residential franchise, but that has not happened. Worse still, the business-nominated voters need have no connection with the City through either residence or work place. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster said confidently that common sense would dictate that there would be such a connection, but it is no disrespect to common councillors to say that democracy should not rest on such vagueness.

The City corporation is a local authority with responsibility for schools, personal social services, police and traffic control for a residential population as well as the vastly inflated daytime population—a characteristic that the City of London shares with Westminster and with Kensington and Chelsea.

That the City is an unusual local authority by virtue of its scale is not in dispute. That it should have the right to a unique system of government is entirely disputable.

Photo of Mr Peter Brooke Mr Peter Brooke Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee 9:53 pm, 24th February 1999

This has been a remarkable debate, although I shall not say that it has been wholly enjoyable. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) and the Minister for putting the positions of the Opposition and the Government.

The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) was concerned about Epping forest and the open spaces. It is only 10 years since the City of London took on further responsibility for Hampstead heath. It has won golden opinions for the manner in which it has carried out that responsibility.

I should like to link the speech of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) with that of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Etherington). The hon. Member for Tatton was expressing the spirit of J. S. Mill in his remarks about universal suffrage. J. S. Mill was the Member of Parliament for my constituency in the days when my ancestors were Liberal Members of Parliament.

I should point out to the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) the irony that the City police force is governed by a local police authority, but the police force in the greater city of London is not.

The rules of common council would prevent the issue that the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) raised with me in an intervention.

I have great good will towards the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer), so there is no edge to my remarks to him. An encapsulation of his speech would have been the moment when Blucher was taken up on to the dome of St. Paul's and, looking down on the City of London, said, "Vot a splendid city to sack!"

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), formerly one of my constituents, and the hon. Member for Regent's Park and Kensington, North (Ms Buck), my parliamentary neighbour, came in on an essentially local basis at the end of the debate, and I am grateful to both.

The heart of the issue lies with the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, echoing the earlier speech by the hon. Member for Tatton. He paid me a compliment, and I pay him one in return. It was a remarkable and eloquent statement on the principle of universal suffrage—I see the right hon. Member for Chesterfield nodding—and I could not dissent from the philosophy expressed, but, as the Minister said, we are dealing with a unique institution.

The City of London is a curious animal. In about 1800, there were 200,000 people living in the City; there were still 60,000 or 70,000 in 1870; and still 14,000 at the end of the war; but it has shrunk. It consists of some pockets of flats, and there are publicans, caretakers and people in nurses' homes, as well as those in the Temple, but it is essentially a deserted area at night. Between 250,000 and 300,000 people come to work there in the day. It is a part of our nation which has essentially—by history, as it has been occupied for commercial purposes for 2,000 years—become a business district, just as the citizens of Melbourne have made the heart of Melbourne a business district, with a similar franchise.

The City is different, and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North need not worry that we are on a slippery slope and every body in the country will follow. Other bodies have not followed since Lord Herbert made the remark that the City was a unique body in the royal commission of 1957–60. Nobody has suggested that the business vote should be brought back since it was abolished in 1969 in any other local authority because it has continued in the City of London.

The Liberals under Gladstone proposed that there should be home rule for Ireland and the great Dicey argued that it was appropriate to have different methods of government in different parts of the country. The present Government have followed that thesis in their various devolution arrangements.

On the European Parliamentary Elections Bill, the Home Secretary said: electoral systems should be appropriate to the nature and functions of the body that is being elected."—[Official Report, 26 February 1998; Vol. 307, c. 546.] The proposals in the Bill are there because it is felt to be desirable that a business district with a remarkable past should have a remarkable future. I hope that the House will respond to the views of the three main parties expressed tonight in favour of the Bill.

Photo of Jacqui Lait Jacqui Lait Conservative, Beckenham

rose in her place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 198, Noes 91.

Division No. 75][9.59 pm
AYES
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)Curry, Rt Hon David
Allen, GrahamCurtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Ancram, Rt Hon MichaelDavey, Edward (Kingston)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Armstrong, Ms HilaryDavies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Baldry, TonyDavis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Battle, JohnDenham, John
Bayley, HughDonaldson, Jeffrey
Beard, NigelDorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)Dowd, Jim
Bercow, JohnDuncan, Alan
Beresford, Sir PaulDuncan Smith, Iain
Betts, Clive
Boswell, TimEagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Edwards, Huw
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Bradley, Keith (Withington)Ennis, Jeff
Brand, Dr PeterEvans, Nigel
Brinton, Mrs HelenFabricant, Michael
Brooke, Rt Hon PeterFearn, Ronnie
Browning, Mrs AngelaField, Rt Hon Frank
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)Fisher, Mark
Burnett, JohnFitzsimons, Lorna
Butterfill, JohnFlynn, Paul
Caborn, RichardFoster, Don (Bath)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Casale, RogerFox, Dr Liam
Chidgey, DavidGale, Roger
Clark, Rt Hon Alan (Kensington)George, Andrew (St Ives)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh)Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)Gorrie, Donald
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)Graham, Thomas
Green, Damian
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)Greenway, John
Clelland, DavidGummer, Rt Hon John
Cormack, Sir PatrickHall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Cranston, RossHammond, Philip
Cunningham, Jim (Cov"try S)Hanson, David
Hawkins, NickÖpik, Lembit
Heath, Rt Hon Sir EdwardPaice, James
Hill, KeithPearson, Ian
Hinchliffe, DavidPope, Greg
Hoey, KatePowell, Sir Raymond
Horam, JohnPrentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)Prior, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)Quinn, Lawrie
Hutton, JohnRadice, Giles
Ingram, Rt Hon AdamRaynsford, Nick
Jack, Rt Hon MichaelRedwood, Rt Hon John
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)Rendel, David
Jamieson, DavidRobertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Jenkins, BrianRogers, Allan
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)Rooker, Jeff
St Aubyn, Nick
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Sanders, Adrian
Keetch, PaulSayeed, Jonathan
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Key, RobertShipley, Ms Debra
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)Short, Rt Hon Clare
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Kirkbride, Miss JulieSmith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Kirkwood, Archy
Kumar, Dr AshokSmith, John (Glamorgan)
Lansley, AndrewSmith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Livsey, RichardSoley, Clive
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)Spellar, John
Llwyd, ElfynSpring, Richard
Lock, DavidStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Loughton, TimSteen, Anthony
Luff, PeterStoate, Dr Howard
Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasSyms, Robert
McAvoy, ThomasTapsell, Sir Peter
McCabe, SteveTaylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
McCafferty, Ms Chris
McFall, JohnTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
McGuire, Mrs AnneTaylor, Sir Teddy
McIntosh, Miss AnneTemple-Morris, Peter
McIsaac, ShonaThomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Maclean, Rt Hon DavidThomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
McNulty, TonyThompson, William
MacShane, DenisTimms, Stephen
Madel, Sir DavidTouhig, Don
Major, Rt Hon JohnTredinnick, David
Malins, HumfreyTrickett, Jon
Maples, JohnTurner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)Tyler, Paul
Mates, MichaelTyrie, Andrew
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir BrianViggers, Peter
May, Mrs TheresaWallace, James
Meacher, Rt Hon MichaelWalter, Robert
Meale, AlanWaterson, Nigel
Michael, Rt Hon AlunWilkinson, John
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute)Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Moore, Michael
Moran, Ms MargaretWilshire, David
Moriey, ElliotWinterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Moss, MalcolmWright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Norman, ArchieYoung, Rt Hon Sir George
Oaten, Mark
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)Tellers for the Ayes:
Olner, BillMrs. Jacqui Lait and
O'Neill, MartinMr. David Amess.
NOES
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)Illsley, Eric
Allan, RichardJones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Ashton, JoeKemp, Fraser
Atkins, CharlotteKidney, David
Barnes, HarryLaxton, Bob
Barron, KevinLepper, David
Beggs, RoyLevitt, Tom
Bell, Martin (Tatton)Linton, Martin
Benn, Rt Hon TonyLove, Andrew
Bennett, Andrew FMcAllion, John
Bermingham, GeraldMcDonnell, John
Berry, RogerMackinlay, Andrew
Best, HaroldMcWilliam, John
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Buck, Ms KarenMarshall, David (Shettleston)
Butler, Mrs ChristineMarshall-Andrews, Robert
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)Maxton, John
Cann, JamieMichie, Bill (Shef'ld Heeley)
Clapham, MichaelMullin, Chris
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)Naysmith, Dr Doug
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)Pickthall, Colin
Cohen, HarryPike, Peter L
Coleman, IainPrentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Connarty, MichaelRoss, William (E Lond'y)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N)Salter, Martin
Corbyn, JeremySavidge, Malcolm
Crausby, DavidShaw, Jonathan
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley)Sheerman, Barry
Cummings, JohnSimpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Dalyell, TamSingh, Marsha
Davidson, IanSkinner, Dennis
Steinberg, Gerry
Dawson, HiltonStevenson, George
Dean, Mrs JanetStewart, Ian (Eccles)
Etherington, BillStinchcombe, Paul
Fyfe, MariaTaylor, David (NW Leics)
Galloway, GeorgeWalley, Ms Joan
Gerrard, NeilWareing, Robert N
Gibson, Dr IanWatts, David
Godman, Dr Norman AWhitehead, Dr Alan
Golding, Mrs LlinWinnick, David
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)Wood, Mike
Heppell, JohnWray, James
Hinchliffe, DavidWright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Hood, Jimmy
Hopkins, KelvinTellers for the Noes:
Hurst, AlanMr. Stephen Pound and
Iddon, Dr BrianMr. John Cryer.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time, and committed.