City of London (Ward Elections) Bill

– in the House of Commons at 3:26 pm on 15th November 2001.

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On resuming—

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [7 November],

That the promoters of the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill which originated in this House in the last Parliament but had not received the Royal Assent may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the bill in the present session of Parliament; and the petition for the bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable to it shall be deemed to have been complied with;

That the bill shall be presented to the House by deposit in the Private Bill Office no later than the fifth day on which the House sits after this day;

That a declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the bill, stating that it is the same in every respect as the bill presented in this House in the last Parliament;

That on the next sitting day following presentation, the Clerk in the Private Bill Office shall lay the bill on the Table of the House;

That in the present session of Parliament the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the last Parliament, and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having passed those stages;

That no further fees shall be charged to such stages.— [Sir George Young.]

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

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is impolite of me to raise a point of order without giving you notice, so may I say that there is a range of points of order relating to compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998, the publication of the statement by the promoters, the declarations of interest relating to the Bill and the hybridity issues in relation to any changes in the Bill that I will not raise today because I have not given you notice but which, if the Bill proceeds, I will raise at a later date?

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have noted the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

As hon. Members who were present for the debate—or rather, the debates—in the previous Parliament will know, the Bill has an element of the controversial about it. Those debates were replied to, with great wit and courtesy, by Peter Brooke—now Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville—the City's MP in the last Parliament. I have to say to my hon. Friend Mr. Field, his successor, that sponsoring a measure such as the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill is not the best initiation for any hon. Member, however able, in his first parliamentary Session.

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

Why has the right hon. Gentleman been selected for this honour?

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

The hon. Gentleman anticipates my very next sentence. As a Minister at the Department of the Environment and subsequently as a Treasury Minister, I had frequent contact with the City, as I did as Transport Secretary. Also as a former London MP, a former borough councillor and indeed a former Greater London council member, I hope that I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman that I am acquainted with local government in the capital. Therefore, when I was asked to sponsor the Bill, I readily agreed.

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

May I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that on the basis of his experience he should know better?

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I could not disagree more strongly. It is my knowledge of the background to the Bill, dating back to the Herbert commission in the 1960s, which decided that the City of London should remain as a corporation, that gives me renewed conviction to carry on the Bill in the footsteps of Lord Brooke.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

May I make some progress? I am familiar with the pattern of these debates. I should like to get a little mileage on the mileometer before I give way.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster will, if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, deal with some constituency aspects relevant to the merits of this revival motion, and will pick up on points made in other hon. Members' contributions towards the conclusion of the debate.

As this is a debate on revival, not a general debate on the Bill's merits, I will not risk your displeasure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by roaming at large over its provisions. I should, however, in addition to the procedural case for revival, like to refer in passing to the features of the Bill that have led John McDonnell to contend, through the early-day motions that he has tabled this Session, that no further parliamentary time should be allocated to it. I should also like to refer to the amendments that will be proposed by the promoters if the revival is agreed by the House, as they may well be relevant to hon. Members' views of the merits of the motion before the House.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

There is a sense of deja vu about the Bill, dating back to November 1998, because we are now in our fourth year of discussing it. However, in the light of the right hon. Gentleman's considerable local government experience, does he not find it odd that he should be promoting a Bill that reduces the democracy of local government and increases the autocracy of the business vote in local government? Will he tell us what these wonderful amendments are that are about to be brought forward?

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I said a moment ago that I would like to refer to the key amendment. I slept easily in my bed last night, knowing that I was going to propose the revival motion, because I do not find the Bill offensive in the way that the hon. Gentleman alleges it to be.

The proposition that a private Bill might be continued from one Parliament to the next on a revival motion is unexceptional. By way of example, the House currently has before it the Barclays Group Reorganisation Bill, the Greenham and Crookham Commons Bill and the National Australia Group Europe Bill. Those are all private measures, that originated in the last Parliament, fell with the general election and have been revived again this Session. As the cognoscenti among hon. Members will know from "Erskine May", edition 22, page 928, motions have even been made to revive a number of private Bills en bloc. The motion before the House is of a more exclusive nature, but can claim no other distinguishing features.

You may think it right, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for me to refer to one procedural aspect that had a significant bearing on the promoter's ability to make progress during the last Parliament and on the enhanced ability to make progress in the current one if the Bill is revived. That is the issue of human rights, to which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington referred in his point of order, or rather the procedures to be applied to private legislation under the Human Rights Act 1998. That issue took up virtually all of two of the previous three-hour debates allocated to the Bill, the last being on 11 January. A substantial amount of time was also spent on points of order during the other debates. The House agreed the procedures to be applied to private Bills on 2 May and I know that that will be a relief to the hon. Gentleman, who has devoted a good deal of time to the subject during earlier debates.

I note that the Standing Order changes were adopted by the House on 2 May without objection. If the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill is revived, the promoters will of course comply with the procedure that the House agreed.

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

On a point of clarity, it is true that, as a result of the labours of Members on the Labour Benches in this Chamber, our procedure has changed. However, the fundamental point remains that the Bill strikes against fundamental human rights, which base democracy on one person, one vote.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

The hon. Gentleman may have his own reservations. The promoters propose to comply with the new Standing Orders that were adopted by the House without dissent.

With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall draw two remaining aspects to the attention of the House as they are relevant to consideration of the revival motion. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington sponsored two early-day motions. The first, early-day motion 112, proposes that

"no further time of the House should be wasted on this measure" because it

"offends against basic democratic principles by extending the business vote".

I should record that, contrary to what he implies in his motion, the practice of Parliament since the Great Reform Act of 1832 has been to extend the City's non-domestic franchise to meet changing circumstances. For example, business voters are no longer required to live within a particular distance of the City as they were at the time of the great reforms, and changes made as recently as 1995 have extended the City's business vote to European Union nationals.

The hon. Gentleman's other motion, 265, argues that no further parliamentary time should be given to the Bill because

"many of the companies implicated in laundering terrorist funds via the City of London's financial institutions will gain a vote in the running of the City Corporation".

This is not the occasion to debate the substance of that assertion, but as those entitled to vote in ward elections will, according to the Bill, be confined to British subjects and citizens of the Republic of Ireland plus those of other EU states, the promoters are not confident that they fully understand the point that he is trying to make. On behalf of the City I should, however, record the view that the sentiment expressed in the motion is somewhat tasteless.

The Bill plainly does not enjoy the support of all hon. Members. It does, however, enjoy cross-party support and in previous debates the Government's attitude to it has been consistently supportive. The Minister for Local Government may wish to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I will remind the House of what Keith Hill said when, as Minister with responsibility for London, he contributed to the last debate on a carry-over motion. He said:

"The Bill's changes to the electoral system recognise the unique nature of the square mile and the need for an inclusive form of local governance that reflects . . . all those who have an interest".—[Hansard, 2 November 1999; Vol. 337, c. 190.]

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

It would be helpful if the right hon. Gentleman could explain to the wider world what possible justification there may be for the City of London to have a totally different electoral system for local government from that of the rest of the country, or is it a pattern that he and some of his friends wish to be repeated elsewhere?

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

I have taken the opportunity of reading Hansard accounts of revival motions. On an earlier occasion, the Deputy Speaker was anxious that the debate should not stray beyond that motion and into the merits of the Bill. I do not want to fall foul of the Chair, by dealing in detail with some of the issues in the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss the Bill in detail, the best thing that he can do is to agree to the revival motion so that we can debate at a later stage the issues that excite him.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) has obviously gone way beyond the revival motion in describing the Bill's merits and you have accepted that, so presumably it is in order. It would surely be in order, therefore, for him to reply to the point that I made in my intervention.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I have listened carefully to the points that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) is making in his opening remarks, and he has not yet strayed far enough away from the revival motion to incur my displeasure. Indeed, I agree with the remarks that he has made to date, and I shall listen carefully to the contributions of other hon. Members.

Photo of George Young George Young Chair, Standards and Privileges Committee

That is a great relief to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Finally, I wish to say a few words about the amendments that the promoters will propose if the House agrees to revive the Bill, as that may assist the House in reaching a view on the merits of the motion. One of the principal objections advanced by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and others has been to the extension of a property-based vote through rateable values. The reason that that route was taken by the promoters is a matter of record and has been debated extensively. The promoters have sought to deal with that objection, given the constraint that any form of general commuter vote would swamp the existing residential vote and would therefore be unacceptable to City residents.

The promoters now believe that an alternative to rateable values could, however, be introduced as the basis for the voting entitlement that would be conferred by the Bill. So, if the House agrees to the revival motion, amendments will be introduced to remove the proposed voting entitlement based on the rateable value of premises and replace it with a scheme that relates voting entitlement to the number of people who work on the premises. If the House agrees to the motion, as I hope that it will, hon. Members will have a full opportunity to examine the proposals and take a view on them.

The failure of the House to agree that the Bill should be revived would derail the reform movement in the City of London as the Bill would be lost in its entirety. Neither the City of London, nor Labour Members—indeed, no one—agrees that the status quo is satisfactory, but that would remain unchanged if the Bill were not revived. I hope that the House will agree, by supporting the motion, that the status quo should not remain unchanged.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 4:12 pm, 15th November 2001

I welcome all hon. Members present—especially yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker—to our fourth year of discussing the Bill. This is not an evening for long discussion, and I hope that we shall all soon be able to head off to our respective constituencies to meet our constituents.

We are considering a tainted piece of detritus, which has been introduced by the City of London corporation and promoted by the usual group of freeloading freemasons. We need to consider the motion with the conciseness of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who is now sponsoring the Bill—the second Member to do so during the fourth year of our considering it. We will miss the eloquence of Peter Brooke, who has now gone to the other place.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My hon. Friend will have heard the Bill's sponsor say that a substantive amendment will be introduced, changing the basis of the Bill. Does he agree therefore that the Bill will take a rather different form and that we should consider a new Bill, not the old one?

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

I shall shortly deal with that point because it is fundamental to the consideration of the motion. There have been proposals, which may constitute a new Bill if taken at their face value. However, anything that the City of London corporation has told the House cannot be taken at face value.

I preface my remarks with a note of caution to those on the Government Front Bench. I am not superstitious, except about two things. First, I never sit in the stand when Hayes football club plays, because they always lose when I do so. I usually stand near the corner flag; they still lose, but I do not get the blame. Secondly, I am superstitious about the Bill. Ministers have been brought forward, by No. 10, to defend the Bill. It should be made clear that the motion is supported by the Government; it is not some naive motion produced by the promoters themselves. The Bill would not even appear on our agenda today without the Government's support, as has been made clear in debate after debate. However, having looked at the sequence of Ministers who have made various arguments to carry over and promote the Bill at different stages, I have to express a note of caution. For instance, within months of his support for the Bill, the mayoral ambitions of my right hon. Friend the Minister for local Government came, tragically, to nothing—a result, I believe, of his association with the Bill.

I think that the Bill is cursed. Let us consider the Ministers who have laid down various procedural motions to carry it forward. I have mentioned my right hon. Friend, who is condemned to labour in the Siberia of standard spending assessments for the rest of his ministerial career. We have been through four Ministers and three Whips.

Photo of Michael Lord Michael Lord Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not carry on in this vein and will soon get to the reasons why the Bill should or should not be revived.

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

One of the main reasons for not reviving the Bill is that it is a dangerous Bill with which to be associated. That has been demonstrated on numerous occasions by Ministers who have promoted it. My hon. Friend Keith Hill was the next Minister who came forward to promote the Bill, and he is now Deputy Chief Whip in the Whips Office. He lost a ministerial position, where he could have made policy, and is now part of a partnership with my hon. Friend Mr. McAvoy.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government)

My hon. Friend presents the facts in a slightly curious way. An objective appraisal of the careers of the two Ministers who have spoken for the Government on the Bill is that both have subsequently been promoted.

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

I do not believe that removal from a ministerial job to the Whips Office in such a way would be considered promotion. Indeed, the Whip who was associated with the Bill is no longer in the Whips Office. Any Minister who comes forward is dragged here as a result of the demands of No. 10. However, I do not want to go into the careers of the Deputy Prime Minister and other Ministers who have been moved from the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to the Home Office.

Let us consider the motion paragraph by paragraph. I hope that we can bring it to the vote fairly quickly and reject it and that we will be able to convince right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Bill should not be revived on the basis of the motion's proposals, which I shall take in reverse order.

The last proposal in the motion is that no further fees shall be charged at any stage as a result of the carry-over. That is outrageous. Fee charging for private Bills performs two functions. First, it is an income to the Exchequer—admittedly, it is only a few hundred pounds, but it is not insignificant. Secondly, it covers some of the costs of presenting and publishing the Bill and the administration—the Bill's handling charge, as it were. The maximum amount, which is adhered to for all such private Bills, is a fairly minimal sum.

The City of London's budget is billions of pounds. I do not even want to enter into discussions about the City cash, which is part of its budget, whose accounts are neither audited nor published. That is another matter for another debate. However, we know from its published budget that the City of London corporation is a wealthy local authority. In my view, for the motion to argue that the fee should not be paid as a result of the carry-over is a disgrace. Might I suggest that the City of London corporation reconsiders its refusal to pay this paltry sum? It might even indicate to the Bill's promoters that the sum will either be paid or donated to a charity, such as Harlington hospice in my constituency. That is a good cause, related to the interests of London.

It is time to reconsider such motions, because it is a disgrace to charge a corporate body of this size a standard fee, and then to waive it when the Bill is carried over. We should be arguing now for a sliding scale of fees, dependent on the size of the corporate body and on how much it is able to pay. For the Corporation of London, it should be a case of "can pay, will pay". The fee should not be waived; it should not only cover the administrative costs of the Bill's passage through Parliament but make a substantial contribution to an associated cause.

If we had a sliding scale of fees, instead of this proposal to waive the fee altogether, the amount could be based on a percentage of the corporation's overall budget. For example, even if the percentage were very small, it would produce £2 million or £3 million for regeneration initiatives on the fringe of the City. I will not even suggest that the money should be invested in Hayes, Hornchurch, or Islington, North or in the north-east of the country. Fees could be related to the amount that the corporation can pay and donated to an associated cause. Even a donation to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy might help and, in this case, it would be a relevant cause.

If for no other reason, the motion to revive the Bill is not acceptable because of the refusal to cover what will be a cost to this House. Donations by the corporation would assist in smoothing the Bill's path. If that sounds like the corporation's usual practice of buying influence, I suggest that a better comparison is with planning agreements under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, in which donations are made to local authorities in return for planning application approvals, and those donations are passed on to appropriate or associated local initiatives. I suggest that the House should not agree to the motion because of the proposal to waive the fee.

I am going through the proposals in the motion in reverse order, so I turn now to the fifth paragraph, which says:

"That in the present session of Parliament the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the last Parliament, and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having passed those stages".

This is a new Parliament, and many new Members were elected at the last general election. They may well have wanted to serve on the Committee that scrutinised the petitions for and against the Bill, but they will not now be given the chance because, if the motion is passed, we will go straight on to consideration of the Bill by the whole House. No further petitions will be allowed. New Members will not be entitled to scrutinise in Committee even the old petitions, let alone new petitions.

Some considerable time has passed. The Bill is now in the fourth year of its passage. Since it was published, new information has come to light that hon. Members particularly newly elected ones, would want to have considered in Committee. There is also new information on the basis of which individuals in the community may have wanted to petition against the Bill. According to the motion, they will have no opportunity to do so because we will go straight on to consideration of the Bill by the whole House. We will lose the opportunity to make any more petitions based on new information.

Since the Bill was considered by a Committee, new information has come to light on which hon. Members may well have wanted to base their decision on whether to allow the Bill to proceed. As my hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn pointed out, the promoters now propose significantly to alter the substance of the Bill. That proposal, as the right hon. Member for North–West Hampshire said, is to base the extension of the franchise to the business vote not on rateable values but on a count of employees.

I will deal with the detail of those arguments later. If we take them at face value and the change is substantial and significant, the Bill is in effect new, although I would argue that it may well not be. We do not want to mislead the House that the change is as significant as some commentators suggest.

The Bill cannot be deemed to have proceeded appropriately through its previous stages in its former guise if the substantial amendments are presented at a later date. We should return to the stage at which new petitions can be submitted based on the new amendments if they are significant and substantial. A new Committee would be able to examine the detail in the light of new information, new amendments and any new petitions.

Let me give a brief example of information that has come to light since the Bill was published and that dramatically affects our considerations. The Bill would extend votes to a vast range of businesses located in the City. There are no proposals at this stage to exclude businesses on the basis of their performance within the City and the global financial system. I believe that consideration of petitions and proposals would have been influenced by recent revelations that some City companies that will gain votes if the Bill makes further progress have allegedly been money laundering.

The debate in the French Parliament was clear. The report before it identified British companies that were considered to be elements of an international money laundering system. If that information had been before the Committee or even the general public when the Bill was published, petitions would have been made to consider amending the Bill to exclude those companies from gaining a role in the governance of the City on the basis of money laundering. We could have examined procedures in Committee or the House at that early stage, based on petitions from individuals or others, to suspend the companies under investigation and prevent people from holding office who are from a company that is proven to be involved in money laundering. Had that information been available, petitioners would have had the opportunity to obtain approval from the Committee that scrutinised the Bill to introduce procedural changes to prevent money launderers from participating in the affairs of the City of London.

It is important to realise, however, that the Bill does not simply affect the governance of the City corporation. If we agree to the motion, the carry-over will enable the City corporation to extend its franchise to businesses, some of which are being investigated for money laundering, which will then have a role in the governance of the city as a whole because the City counts as an individual borough in the consultative arrangements for the Mayor of London and by the Government office of London.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

If those companies are found guilty of criminal activities, will not they be dealt with under other legislation and penalised in the appropriate manner?

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

There is nothing to suspend those companies from operating in the City corporation while they are under investigation. Many of the companies that are under investigation have not been suspended from trading. As a result of the report to the French Parliament, many of us believe that they should not have a part in the affairs of the governance of London while under investigation.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I do not understand the hon. Gentleman's point. Is he suggesting that if an election takes place while a citizen is under police investigation, that citizen should not be able to vote?

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

Let us equate a business that will exercise a democratic vote under the business franchise within its area, which is an influential position, with a Member who serves in the House. If an hon. Member is under investigation, he or she usually withdraws or is suspended. We should follow that example, because the Bill does not deal with individual voters but with businesses that in effect exercise a block vote.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

If Members are under investigation and appear before the Select Committee on Standards and Privileges, they continue to vote in the House. It is only when they are found guilty and are asked to withdraw that they no longer exercise that right.

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

That applies when Members are found guilty under the procedures of the House, but not necessarily in law itself. We should apply similar standards to the exercise of what is, in effect, a massive business block vote.

The charges that have been made against certain companies are so severe that we should consider carefully whether the Bill should be carried over. It will give several companies that are under investigation for money laundering a role in the democratic government of the City.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch

Is my hon. Friend saying that, if some companies are found guilty of serious crimes, nothing can be done under the Bill to exclude them from the governance of London?

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

My point is different. If those companies are found guilty, they might be brought before the law and fined. However, the proposals in the Bill will not preclude them from exercising a vote in the City of London corporation. My point is that, depending on the severity of the crime, it should be possible to suspend those companies from operating within the City corporation while they are under investigation.

In the House, if a severe charge were made against a Member, the onus would be on that Member to withdraw from exercising a role within the democratic mechanisms of the House while he was under investigation. That has happened on a number of occasions in the past when Members have been investigated for what might be serious criminal activity.

I am happy to go through the list of firms that have been identified in the report—although you would not want me to do that, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall not. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire described an early-day motion on that issue as tasteless, but I find tasteless the activities of companies that have received laundered money from Nigeria and that are even, we believe, associated with Osama bin Laden.

The Bill will supposedly be substantially altered by future amendments. However, before we have seen the detail of how it will be altered, we are expected to accept the motion and take a leap in the dark. We are expected to agree to further debate before we have seen the amendments. All that the promoters have provided is yet another statement, and I cannot remember how many such statements they have published. The promoters tell us:

"In proposing the alterations to the existing business franchise provided for by the Bill the Corporation's aim has been to strengthen the link between the right to vote and the interests of those for which the Corporation provides services . . . The promoters have, however, noted the continuing criticism which has been made of an entitlement related to property values."

It is on that basis that we have been told in the debate that amendments will be tabled for our consideration.

However, we have been asked to accept the motion without the detail of those amendments or any information about them. We are supposed to take a leap in the dark. In fact, we are being asked to make a leap of faith on the basis of the City corporation's track record and the assurances that it has given for previous debates on carry-over. Let us consider them, because the motion must stand in its own right but be viewed against the corporation's track record. In previous statements—it repeats this in the latest—the corporation told us:

"The Bill forms part of a wider package of reforming measures, and the Promoters have given the Select Committee formal undertakings as to the implementation of the remainder. These can be dealt with by the City's own legislative mechanisms and do not therefore require Parliamentary powers."

When the carry-over was debated in the past, what held sway in many Members' minds—certainly in that of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government—was the view that, although it might be a tawdry rag of a Bill, it would produce some improvements in democracy. The argument was that the Bill should be carried over because it would be getting something from the City corporation, no matter how minor—crumbs from the City corporation table. We were promised in the Select Committee, as set out in paragraph 9 of the statement, a series of improvements that would protect the residents' vote but did not have to be included in the Bill.

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North

I take issue with my hon. Friend on one matter. I understand the sophistication of his line-by-line, detailed argument, but surely we cannot talk about improvements when an issue is fundamentally rotten and wrong. Rather than arguing over small issues, should we not be arguing that the Bill is an affront to democracy and as such should be thrown out?

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

I could not have put it better myself; I agree. However, I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would call me to order if I tried to pursue that general argument, so I let it stand on the record as a good summary of my views.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. You will have heard both the sponsor of the Bill, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), and my hon. Friend John McDonnell refer to substantial amendments that are not before the House. Have you or your office had sight of those amendments? If so, do they substantially alter the basis of the Bill, to the extent that it should be reintroduced rather than be the subject of a carry-over motion?

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

I shall return to my earlier point and consider later whether the amendments affect the substantive nature of the Bill. It is important that we return to that matter in this debate.

We are being asked to agree to carry over the Bill on the basis of an offer from the promoters on behalf of the City of London corporation. They have said that wonderful amendments will be tabled and that, lo and behold, democracy will reign in the City corporation—based not just on residence or businesses but on a workers' soviet on the entitlement of employees to vote. We need to consider what the corporation has done in the past when giving such assurances.

According to paragraph 9 of the promoters' statement on the motion,

"a wider package of reforming measures" was to be introduced. That was promised to us in 1998, but not a single measure or part of the package of supposed reforming measures has been introduced. I would expect my right hon. Friend the Minister to feel somewhat aggrieved that the deal between No. 10 and the City corporation on that package has been reneged on.

When considering carry-over motions, amendments and the quality of the Bill, we were told that the reforming measures did not need to be included in the Bill, were not part of the parliamentary process and would be implemented anyway. To convince us that the Bill should be carried over, we were told that the amendments represented an act of good will on the part of the City corporation. I do not any more accept that there is such good will, because if there were, the package of reforming measures would have been implemented already. I would be happy to give way to the right hon. Member for North–West Hampshire if he could describe the measures that were promised and those that have been implemented. He is silent because none of the measures has been introduced.

Given that track record, and on the basis of a promise of amendments that have not been published, received by the Deputy Speaker or seen by anyone, how can we take as a beneficent offer the proposal that we support the motion to carry the Bill over? We should call for a report and the reconvening of the Committee rather than allowing a Division at the end of this debate and the motion to be accepted.

The motion should summon the City corporation to ask what happened and why promises to the House, which we received in good faith, were not implemented. If the amendments are substantial, there will, in effect, be a new Bill. Tonight's debate is not about carry-over, but a new Bill. Petitioners should therefore be informed that we will start again with a new Bill and allow petitions; or perhaps we should consider a procedure—I am happy to meet the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire halfway on a compromise—whereby the amendments are published and petitioners allowed to petition on them.

Changing the Bill at this late stage denies the rights of petitioners. If the amendments are fundamental, we should at least allow the right of petition to be reintroduced. Again, I urge the right hon. Gentleman to consult the City corporation, even during our debate, to see whether we can reach a compromise. New parties and groups of individuals will be affected if, as he says, the amendments change the basis of the franchise from rateable value to a formula that takes account of the number of employees. Bills are declared hybrid if they affect certain individuals or classes of individual, and go through a process similar to that for a private Member's Bill. Once individuals know that they are affected, they are given the right to petition. In a private Bill, we go through the same process; people who are affected should have the right to a say and a direct line of communication to the House

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North

My hon. Friend has come to the nub of the problem: the nebulousness of what we are trying to discuss. Will he say more about how democracy will be improved by changing the property vote from one based on floor area to one based on the number of people employed in the building?

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

I will not encourage your intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by going into the principles of the Bill. However, with your discretion, I should like to deal with the proposal as it affects the carry-over; that is a matter of procedure, not principle.

If new parties are affected by an amendment to a Bill of this nature, they should be allowed a direct line of communication to the House to explain how they are affected. That will enable us to consider how the Bill, the amendment or, as it is becoming, the new Bill, will affect them and how we should protect their interests. I give the example of employees themselves. As the right hon. Member for North–West Hampshire said, the amendment would base the franchise on the number of employees in a company. I am sure that employees, whether individually or in groups, and the trade unions have questions about that. A year ago, the City corporation floated a range of ideas for amendments, but they were not based on a count of employees, as we suggested. Instead, they identified individual companies, assessed their rateable value and the number of employees employed in relation to that value, and used that to determine its vote. In other words, there was no amendment to ensure a count of employees or that the franchise would be based on the number of workers in the company; it would be based on rateable value.

If such an amendment is now being proposed again—I do not know because no one has seen it apart from those promoting the Bill, who, suspiciously, are keeping it close to their chest—it is pointless because it is a thinly veiled attempted to con the House that it is an improvement to the democratic system. It is not. The corporation would not be reformed. A proposal would be made that votes be sold to businesses just as before. It would be said that the proposal was based on numbers of employees, but that would not be the case. The proposal would be based on rateable value.

The proposal was bandied about 12 months ago, and we considered it farcical. That is why amendments were tabled in the spirit of the Bill. If there had been procedural problems and we had been unable to get them through the House in the previous Session, I would have supported the carry-over motion. The amendments were simple. The intention behind them was to base the franchise on the number of a company's employees, with a proper count and registration of the companies, as there is of electors and others.

I would welcome a comment from the Minister about what was or is wrong with such a proposal. Why did the Government not support it? If they had done so, this evening's debate would not have taken the same form. The motion would have been carried unanimously rather than having to have a debate that is revealing that the corporation is not budging an inch.

We need to reject the motion and go back to Committee. If there were a way to amend it, I would seek to do so. Even if I supported the carrying over of the present Bill, we should have a democratic right to return to Committee. I think that some of the Members who considered these matters in Committee are embarrassed that they have allowed a Bill to come before the House that is based upon the promises that were set out in the promoter's statement, none of which have been adhered to. I urge the Minister who is responsible for the Bill, although he refuses to accept that word—my right hon. Friend Mr. Raynsford—to take the matter back. We have substantially a new Bill before us.

Photo of Robert Syms Robert Syms Vice-Chair, Conservative Party

As a Member who was involved in the opposed private Bill business, I can say that the Committee considered these issues thoroughly. We took evidence from many people, including representatives of the City of London Labour party, and I think that we came to sensible conclusions. We produced some amendments, which have been incorporated. The City corporation is acknowledging that because four years have passed, it can improve the Bill. If the revival motion is agreed to, we can fully debate the Bill.

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

I think that the hon. Gentleman has missed my point. He did the best job that he could in Committee with the material that he had before him, but the problem with that material is that it did not contain the proposal that has been advanced tonight. If it had contained it, he could have examined the corporation in detail about implementation and then consulted other petitioners, and other petitioners would have come forward. Perhaps he could have persuaded the corporation to move away from the detail of the amendment that has been suggested, or the previous amendment, which does not include a count or a register of employees. Thereafter, he could have persuaded the corporation to introduce a worthwhile amendment. I am convinced of his forensic ability, and of his powers to persuade the corporation.

If we reject the motion, we shall be asking the corporation to pause, to think carefully about the amendments that it wants to table and to consult. I envisage consultation with the businesses that comprise the corporation electorate already, those that are seeking to acquire votes and influence within the corporation, residents, the mayor, the London boroughs and others.

I make the corporation an offer. The compromise of withdrawing the motion would give us the opportunity as individual Members to consult it about the nature of the supposedly significant amendment that has been brought forward. It would be an insult to the House if such a Bill, based upon a significant amendment, were forced through the House without that consultation.

Hon. Members may recall that, in previous debates on carry-over motions for this legislation and on the legislation itself, the City corporation made the strong point that there had been considerable consultation with all the bodies that I mentioned, including the Association of London Government and the boroughs themselves, and that there had been some consultation with residents and businesses. The position of London Mayor did not exist at that time. However, at no point in those consultations was a proposal presented to grant the franchise on the basis of employee numbers. Such a proposal was never made to the City's current electorate or presented for consultation with the London boroughs and other bodies. It therefore flies in the face of the City corporation's own statements to introduce a novel amendment on which there has been no consultation.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to rise for a third time on a point of order. However, as you have not received the amendments to which various hon. Members in the Chamber have referred, and therefore cannot rule on whether they would so substantially change the Bill that it would be within the Speaker's remit to order that a new Bill be introduced, would it not be appropriate to abandon this debate until the promoters have produced their amendments, so that the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and Clerks could advise the House on whether the amendments are in order?

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

I can see that that was a considered response, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should like, on a point of order, to ask you the rationale for that response, but I shall not press the point.

The second and fourth paragraphs of the motion relate to the consultation issue. The second paragraph states:

"the Bill shall be presented to the House by deposit in the Private Bill Office no later than the fifth day on which the House sits after this day".

The fourth paragraph states:

"on the next sitting day following presentation, the Clerk in the Private Bill Office shall lay the Bill on the Table of the House".

We should reject the motion on basis of those provisions alone. The Bill should be re-published with the proposed amendments. We should be able to see both the current Bill and a redrafted Bill.

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North

Does my hon. Friend think that, rather than considering a revised Bill, it would be better if the Government introduced a new Bill to bring the City of London into line with the rest of the country, where there are democratic elections based not on property but on one person, one vote? Would not that have been far preferable?

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

Although I do not want to offend your sensibilities, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in managing the affairs of the House, I have to say that I fully agree with my hon. Friend. We would not be having this debate if this Labour Government had adhered to the Labour party policy that had existed for almost 70 years: to ensure that local government is democratic and based on universal adult suffrage. I leave it to my hon. Friend to take that message—with some trepidation, I should think—to wherever he thinks it important to take it.

I am concerned about the time scale specified in the second and fourth paragraphs of the motion. I take it that the Clerks or the occupant of the Chair will advise us on whether they are standard in all opposed private business carry-over motions. As I said, I genuinely feel that the City corporation could do us all a service by publishing both the current Bill and a Bill that has been amended as they propose. That would give us an opportunity not only to consider the new proposals but almost to have pre-legislative scrutiny, such as we have had for other Bills.

The Bill should not be placed on the Table without an alternative Bill, or at least the amendments, being published. The justification for the amendments should also be published, and in a language that all—but especially hon. Members and the City corporation residential electorate—can understand. People should understand what would be done to them by these apparently hidden private amendments that we have not seen. There should now be a detailed procedure for consultation and discussion, so the time limits are now unrealistic. It is unrealistic to expect the Bill to be presented on the fifth day and placed on the Table on the next sitting day following its presentation.

I argue for a compromise. If the motion is passed, I suggest that the Bill should not be placed on the Table for at least a month after its presentation. That would allow thorough discussion. I welcome an informal discussion involving all interested parties, including all my hon. Friends who have expressed reservations about the Bill. We have met the City corporation on several occasions, but I shall not go into those discussions as I found some of them offensive. Perhaps that is something for the memoirs. We need to discuss informally the detail of the Bill before it comes back to the House. On that basis, I argue against the proposed time constraints.

The third paragraph of the motion states:

"That a declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the bill, stating that it is the same in every respect as the bill presented in this House in the last Parliament;"

What a pointless exercise that will be. We have already been told that the promoters plan to present amendments that will significantly alter the Bill, so we are asking the agent to produce a declaration telling us that it is the same Bill while the City corporation has up its sleeve secret amendments that it will not divulge even to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

It is pointless for us to agree to that paragraph of the motion this evening. In fact, we should agree a motion that says that a declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the Bill stating that amendments are being proposed by the City corporation and setting them out. At least that would give us the opportunity to have sight of them.

I shall now sum up quickly because I have to meet some constituents. The first paragraph of the motion is the key to the debate. I accept that it is difficult not to stray into the principles of the Bill and I shall accept any ruling that you might make, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It states:

"That the promoters of the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill which originated in this House in the last Parliament . . . had not received . . . Royal Assent".

The Bill originated in the last Parliament, but this is a new Parliament with a new mandate. We were all elected at a general election this year. The Bill did not receive Royal Assent as a result of decisions taken by the last Parliament. This is a new Parliament, newly elected with new mandates. The Bill did not receive Royal Assent because some of us argued that there was not sufficient mandate for it in the last Parliament. The argument of Ministers was then based on a reading of the 1997 Labour manifesto that bizarrely assembled eclectic phrases and sentences from different pages of the manifesto to justify the reform of the City of London corporation on this basis. It was difficult for any of us to keep a straight face when that argument was made, but at least it had the fig leaf of being based on some form of manifesto commitment, so there was a mandate for bringing forward something.

I do not think that any party put forward these proposals in any manifesto at this year's general election. I am happy to give way to any hon. Member who can draw attention to an election manifesto that stated that we were about to sell votes in the City of London to any business that could buy a piece of land. I hear no takers and that is fair enough. In that case, the first paragraph of the motion is critical. The Bill did not receive Royal Assent in the last Parliament and this is a new Parliament. We have no mandate for the Bill and on that basis the motion should not stand as it has no reference to any manifesto. We were not elected on this mandate. The whole point of our constitution and the House considering motions of this sort is based upon the premise that we are elected on the basis of what we say to our electors, as honestly as we can.

They honestly vote for us, or do not, and we are returned on the basis of what we say as individuals and as parties. We did not tell the electorate that we intended to carry over the Bill. I have asked individual Members to search their election literature for any statement to any individual in their constituencies that made reference to the motion or its contents.

I would like to hear from the Liberal Democrats whether they won their seats on the basis of selling votes in the City of London or of supporting rotten boroughs. I would like to consult the electorate of Greenwich to ask whether the Minister included the motion in his personal manifesto. Was a leaflet produced in the general election campaign that said that we would sell votes to businesses, some of which have been accused of money laundering for Osama bin Laden?

We have no right even to consider the motion, let alone carry it tonight. It is an offence against democracy that it is even on our agenda. It was an offence against democracy last time, and we are now in the fourth year of consideration. At least last time some jiggery-pokery with the manifesto gave some justification for the Bill's consideration, but even that fig leaf of a defence is not being used this time.

Last time, the Bill did not reach Royal Assent. Why do we drag the Queen into the matter? Why should she be associated with that bunch of freeloading freemasons who launder money for the City of London corporation? No Royal Assent can be given to the Bill because it is an offence to all decent human beings, and I include the royal family among them.

The motion would make fundamental changes to our constitution and on that basis, I urge hon. Members to reject it. I urge hon. Members to read the words, because if we carry the motion tonight it will mean that

"the petition for the bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Order applicable to it shall be deemed to have been complied with".

That equates to support for the Bill itself. All those who vote for the motion will be supporting the Bill. They will be supporting the extension of the vote to businesses. We must reject that. In the 21st century, if we cannot stand up for the principle of democracy of one person, one vote, and if the Government succumb to the blandishments of the City of London corporation—the freeloaders and of the wining and dining circuit of the City—I shall wonder what has become of the Labour party. That is a serious issue.

The consideration of the motion is taking up the time of the House. If the motion passes, it will take up the time of the House for the next three or four years. The right hon. Member for North–West Hampshire has secret amendments, but I also have amendments that might improve the Bill. I will go back to my earlier 150 amendments and I will amend and amend again. Unless we reach some agreement, not only is the motion not supportable, neither is the Bill.

I would like to debate many issues in the House. Private Members have Bills that they wish to introduce. For example, I want to ban hunting and I want to tackle homelessness. If the motion passes, it will take up time of the House that could be spent considering worthwhile Bills. Why should we consider this degrading legislation when we are in the middle of a war? We could consider homelessness, rising unemployment, the problems in the health service, local government finance issues, pensions or environmental issues. We discussed today the private Member's Bill on marine wildlife protection, and there are many others, but this Bill will crowd them out.

We should reject the motion. The Bill no longer covers the issues that it should cover and that we agreed as a party so long ago. The Labour party wanted to introduce democratic reform of the City of London corporation, and I would have been happy to consider a business district for the corporation. However, business districts all over the world are accountable to some democratic body. Instead of agreeing a carry-over motion, as we did two years ago, our suggestion was that the business district of the City of London corporation should be accountable to the Mayor for London, an institution that was then being introduced.

There was an opportunity then for us to reform the Bill and insert that democratic element, but the Bill's proposers have produced another statement that completely disregards the new democratic structures for the strategic governance of London. It contains no acknowledgement that time has moved on and that London's structures of governance have changed. That is why I believe that we should throw the Bill out.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am puzzled by my hon. Friend's reference to a statement from the promoters. Those of us who were here in the previous Parliament will know that such a statement was produced then, but I am not aware that any new statement has been circulated to hon. Members today.

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

A statement was lodged in the Vote Office. A number of hon. Members received a letter from the City corporation in relation to the motion. Those of us who did not receive the letter clearly are not on the corporation's Christmas card list this year. I deeply regret that we did not get the letter, but the statement is available from the Vote Office. I assure my hon. Friend that it is not worth reading, as it does not vary much from what we have heard before. It is an insinuation rather than a statement.

I suggest that we should consider a compromise. Instead of passing the motion, I suggest that we suspend consideration and that the promoters consider withdrawing it. We should then set up a commission to consider the real reform of the City of London corporation. That commission should adopt a consensual approach that involves all those who, in new Labour terms, would be called stakeholders. We should also establish a discussion involving MPs, and invite academics to undertake a further investigation of the available options.

In addition, the time scale should be limited. The motion sets out a period of five days, but I suggest that we set a time scale of six months, within which a consensual proposal for the democratic form of the City of London corporation could be agreed.

It might turn out that we could not reach consensus after six months, but we should try. It behoves the City of London corporation—given its resources and its ability to exert influence in connection with its relationship with No. 10, which was referred to earlier—at least to consider my proposal, instead of pushing the motion through tonight.

I close by saying that I have set out what I believe should be the objectives of the new institution that could arise out of those discussions.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Conservative, Rayleigh

The hon. Gentleman has been on the point of ending his speech about five times, so I shall be brief. He referred a few moments ago to people making progress, and I assure him that his kind words about the royal family will be much appreciated among Conservative Members. That shows that even he is making progress, to a limited degree.

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

I am grateful for that intervention, although I must warn Her Majesty that she should not be associated with motions such as this.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. The debate on the motion is very narrow, and certainly does not include members of the royal family.

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

I fully agree, Madam Deputy Speaker. If it were up to me, no motion on any Bill would refer to Royal Assent, as the country would be a republic. However, we should move on.

I am offering a compromise: a commission, lasting six months, to set out what the objectives of the City corporation should be. The motion promotes a Bill that is undemocratic in its form and nature, with amendments that we have not seen. The City corporation should meet the objectives of the consultation paper from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which says that the Department wants a quality council to

"be representative of, and actively engage, all parts of its community, providing vision, identity and a sense of belonging . . . be effectively and properly managed . . . articulate the needs and wishes of its community . . . work in partnership with principal authorities and other public service agencies . . . in proportion to size and skills, deliver local services on behalf of principal authorities . . . in proportion to size and skills, undertake more service delivery and other responsibilities themselves . . . work closely with voluntary groups in their communities . . . give leadership to work by the community on town or village plans . . . act as an information point for local services."

That is what the City corporation should be doing.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, as I know that he is anxious to bring his remarks to a conclusion. I am grateful also that he has informed me of the promoters' statement, in which I note that the City makes it clear that it intends to bring forward a substantial amendment to alter the fundamentals of the Bill. He has read this and other documents closely. Does he think that that is in order? Should we be aiming for a completely new Bill, and not have a carry-over motion at all?

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

As you were not in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, you may not be aware that we have covered this point extensively, so I shall be brief. Tonight we must consider the motion. How can we consider the motion on the basis of the existing Bill, when we are told that—most probably within hours, if not days—the Bill will be significantly amended? It is a farcical process that undermines democracy. Why become elected if the manifesto on which one is elected contains no mention of putting to the electorate the idea that such legislation will be proposed? When such a Bill is published and we try to debate it, we are told not to worry, because we can carry it over. However, it will be amended the next day in a way that makes it almost unrecognisable.

What is the point of this debate? Why does the right hon. Member for North–West Hampshire not do the honourable thing and withdraw the motion? Why does he not suggest tonight that we have the six-month breathing space, and establish a commission to try to abide by the objectives set out by the Government, and by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government in his discussions on parish and town councils and other local authorities?

The key issue is to articulate the needs and wishes of the community. I can accept that the Bill is trying to articulate the needs of the whole community within the City corporation: the residents and the businesses. But this matter is not worth carrying over unless the Bill articulates the wishes of the workers themselves. The amendment—which has not been tabled, but alluded to—could be pulled out of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire's sleeve, photocopied and circulated. However, the amendment that was suggested privately 12 months ago—the same one to which he has alluded—does not give the right to the workers to have a vote in the City corporation. It simply uses them as the fodder upon which votes by businesses will then be cast.

The criticisms tonight are the same that the Conservative party used about the block vote years ago, and the same used about the constitution of the Soviet Union, which established votes on the basis of large Soviets of individual factories while the workers never had a vote themselves. That is why the motion should be rejected. We want to go back to the process of democratic discussion and debate to enable us to amend the Bill and reach a satisfactory conclusion. My view is that we are not entering into that process but into a hide-and-seek one.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

My hon. Friend talks about a democratic mandate. Does he recall that, on 15 May of this year in the Hayes Labour club, I drew attention to his activities in opposing the Bill in the previous Parliament? As soon as I did, overwhelming cheers broke out around the hall. It would seem that he is the only Member with a democratic mandate to oppose the Bill.

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

My hon. Friend makes a good point. If we accept the motion and carry over the measure, there is a real chance that some Members will want to promote such legislation elsewhere. Last year, during discussions on this Bill, I was approached by representatives of a Japanese business newspaper and informed that they had been considering the Bill, that it was interesting and that it could be used—

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman once more of the narrowness of this debate?

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

Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was merely referring to my democratic mandate from my constituents as against the democratic mandate that is being undermined by the Bill.

I urge the sponsor of the Bill, even at this late stage, to pull back, to advise the House that the motion should not be voted on and to accept our compromise offer of six months co-operative collaborative work on an agreed, consensual approach to the reform of the City corporation—establishing a commission, involving all the stakeholders and allowing us to make a proper proposal. It is unacceptable to introduce a Bill in one Parliament, to try to have it carried over, to tell us that it will be substantially amended, but not to give us the amendments, and then to expect us to vote on it tonight.

I challenge hon. Members who want to vote on this pig in a poke to examine their conscience: how can they vote for something that they have not even seen? That makes a farce of democracy. We have reached Hogarthian structures of government. If the motion is not withdrawn, I urge hon. Members to oppose it.

The motion will be a test of the democratic conscience of individual Members. It will certainly be a test for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government. I know him to be an honourable person who struggled for democracy in London over many years. He was one of the key people who re-established strategic democratic governance in our city through the London mayoralty.

The motion is also a test for the Liberal Democrats—to see how liberal and how democratic they are. If they vote for the motion, their credibility will be undermined. They will have sold the pass. They will be looking for the crumbs under the table at the City corporation freemasons' lodge. I urge them and all hon. Members to vote against the motion if it is not withdrawn.

With those brief words, I shall sit down.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London) 5:17 pm, 15th November 2001

I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members enjoyed the speech made by John McDonnell. We have heard some of it before, but it was none the less welcome.

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

Would the hon. Gentleman like to identify those parts of my speech that he had heard before and those that he had not? I do not think that he has heard my speech before.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I shall not go down that road, as I am sure that I should soon be brought to order. People who study our proceedings can read the hon. Gentleman's speeches for themselves.

I agree with some of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, as I pointed out during some of the debates on this measure in the last Parliament. I and my colleagues also voted for many of the amendments that he tabled to improve the Bill.

However, I disagree with the thrust of the hon. Gentleman's argument today: that this Parliament should not be allowed to debate the measure. It does not seem to be a logical sequitur that, because the Bill is inadequate, the House should not debate it. We are often asked to debate inadequate Bills, many of which are introduced by his right hon. and hon. Friends. It is the job of this place to improve legislation.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

Is it not a parliamentary maxim that one Parliament cannot legislate for another? Public Bills cannot be transferred from one Parliament to another. Private Members' Bills cannot be transferred from one Parliament to another—indeed, from one Session to another. Why on earth should private Bills—in this case, promoted on behalf of the City corporation—be allowed not merely to pass from Session to Session, but from Parliament to Parliament? If we are all still Members in four years, I would not be surprised to find us discussing a motion for the Bill to carry over into the next Parliament.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, but I think that he misunderstands the parliamentary procedure under which we are debating the motion. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington agreed that this revival process has been used before to continue debate. Surely, the hon. Gentleman wants to debate the subject of democracy in our capital city.

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

My hon. Friend Jeremy Corbyn was making the point that when other Bills are transferred they start afresh.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

They are newly introduced.

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

Indeed. Our objection to the whole carry-over procedure in this motion is that the Bill will not start afresh. It will not go to a Select Committee where representations or petitions can be considered. The motion is certainly offensive because new amendments will substantially alter the measure. The Bill should start afresh.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I am happy to deal with that second point in due course, but it is my understanding that private business is often revived using this procedure. It is not a new thing for the House; it has happened over the years.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

No; I will not give way on that, because I want to deal with the second point raised by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, which he laboured at great length. He said that we had been promised amendments by the promoters, which in his view, would completely change the nature of the Bill, which therefore should not be revived.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, because the principle underlying the Bill is that the promoters wish to change the franchise for votes for the City corporation. It is the House's job to decide whether the direction in which they want to change the franchise is correct. Therefore, if the underlying principle is about the franchise, it seems quite sensible that the Bill should be carried over so that we may continue that debate.

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I am pleased that the corporation has suggested that it will table amendments because, like him in the previous Parliament I disagreed with the Bill that the City corporation put before the House because—

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I shall give way when I have finished the point.

I disagreed with the Bill that the City corporation had produced in the previous Parliament because it was unsatisfactory.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

Will the hon. Gentleman rest in his seat for just a second?

That is why I and my colleagues supported many of the amendments proposed by the hon. Gentleman. Like him, I wish to see the amendments that are mentioned in the statement before us, but unlike him, I am prepared to vote for the motion tonight so that we may see and debate them.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I will allow the intervention in a second, but I want to make this point. It is very important that we change the current franchise in the City. I find it as unacceptable as does the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. That is why I wish to see those amendments. I should have thought, given the hon. Gentleman's background, that he would want employees to be enfranchised within the new system.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green

I thought that the hon. Gentleman said that he was pleased that the amendments were there, but that must imply that he has seen them; he also gives the impression that he has not seen them. How can he be pleased about not having seen the amendments about which he is pleased?

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

The hon. Gentleman needs to listen more carefully. I said that I had been told, as had others, having read the statement before us, that there were proposals to table amendments. I wish to see those amendments, because we are told that they are moving in a direction for which I and Labour Back Benchers argued in the previous Parliament.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Hornchurch

Why cannot we see the amendments now? What is preventing those amendments from being tabled now so that we can see them?

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. I wish that the promoters had put the amendments before us for the debate. However, the question before us is whether we should vote for the motion, and if he is arguing that we should not vote for it just because we have not seen the amendments, I am afraid that that is a non sequitur, and therefore I cannot agree with the logic of his position because that logic is not very good.

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

This is bourgeois liberal sophistry, but let us go through it. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I have seen an amendment, and it is the same as the one that was offered last year. It does not give the vote to employees. It simply says that if a company has a specific rateable value it must, according to a formula, employ a certain number of employees and therefore it may have that number of votes per business. He knows as well as I do that if we allow the motion to pass tonight, the Government will steamroller the Bill through, and that the amendment is no more than a tawdry fig leaf. I ask him to get real.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

The hon. Gentleman is making a number of assertions, most of which are highly contentious. After an hour-long speech, he has just told us the news that he has seen the amendments and can assure us what they are. That is news to me. I know of no publicly available amendments. If he has them in his possession, it is a shame that he did not bother to circulate them to other hon. Members. He has done the House a disservice.

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

I referred to the amendments in my speech. They are the same as those on offer last November and were made widely known by the City of London corporation. Let us ask the Bill's sponsor to produce them now so that the hon. Gentleman can judge them tonight. I believe that, with those amendments, we are talking about a new Bill. The hon. Gentleman should ask the sponsor.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I am more than happy to see any amendments that the promoter wishes to put forward.

In the last Parliament, we had some good debates to try to make the City corporation more democratic. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would want to move in that direction. I am worried about some of his arguments. He called me bourgeois in his pejorative manner, which shows where he is coming from in this argument.

Unlike the hon. Gentleman, I do not find in my dealings with the City and my knowledge of its undertakings in the capital that it is always nefarious. The City corporation does some good works. It should be made more democratic and that would make those good works far more legitimate in my eyes and those of many other people. We do ourselves a disservice and we do not benefit the arguments for democracy when we resort to the approach and attitude demonstrated by the hon. Gentleman.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

The hon. Gentleman is raising an unbelievable non sequitur. There is City of London housing in my constituency and Hampstead heath is nearby, which is extremely well run by the City. That is not the issue; it is that during the whole of the last Parliament the Bill received insufficient support to get it through. He says that he will vote for the carry-over motion because he wants more democracy in the City of London. Clearly, the Bill does not enjoy much support in the House. Is he in favour of such a motion for any Government Bill that does not successfully complete its passage within a Session? If he is serious about democracy in the City of London, he will oppose this Bill completely and produce his own to restore real democracy on the basis of one person, one vote.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I am glad that Labour Members are now learning that democracy and one member, one vote are important. So often the Labour party has not adopted those principles when running its own organisation and I understand that it does not operate that rule for many aspects of its policy. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends are so hostile to our wanting to improve the governance of the City. I think that rather odd.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I have given way quite enough.

I want to see the amendments because progress appears to have been made. I should have thought the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, rather than pooh- poohing and opposing the motion tonight, should be crowing. He may well have secured progress by blocking—

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

If the proposal was to allocate votes on the basis of employees registered and entitled to a democratic vote, the City of London corporation would have supported the amendments that we proposed for an electoral college for employees. It did not. I cannot believe that the hon. Gentleman can be that gullible. This is just an excuse for swinging the Liberal Democrats behind the City corporation. God knows what deal the Liberal Democrats have done elsewhere. I do not know. The amendment does not allow employees—workers—the right to vote. It is a fig leaf.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not have faith in his ability to persuade other hon. Members of that fact during our debate. He is using tactics that go against the whole nature of this place. The point of this House, as I think that you will agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, is to enable us to debate the matter rather than simply to use blocking measures to prevent debate and to prevent Opposition Members from voting for some of the amendments that the hon. Gentleman proposed in the last Parliament.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman said that the City of London corporation was not always nefarious—in other words, it is sometimes benign. That may or may not be the case, and I am happy to accept that it can be benign, but is he suggesting that whether an organisation is benign or nefarious justifies its being less democratic? Should I tell the electorate that I do not have to stand for election because I am benign? I believe in democracy, whatever the nature of the institution.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

The hon. Gentleman needs to pay more attention when listening to speeches. I was making a point not about the nature of democracy, on which there is much shared ground on both sides of the House, but about the fact that there is a presumption in some hon. Members' remarks that the City corporation is uniquely nefarious, and I do not think that that holds water. If the House agrees to the motion, I hope to argue for greater democracy in the City corporation in later debates. I want the Bill, as considered by the previous Parliament, to be substantially amended. I want hon. Members to be able to argue about the nature of a business vote.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

In a second. I want us to be able to debate whether the City is unique, so that we can tie down such issues. That is important because the City corporation is so important.

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

Let me get something clear and on the record. Is the hon. Gentleman saying on behalf of his party that he will commit the Liberal Democrats to voting for an amendment that will support the right of workers to vote in City corporation elections?

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, but I understand that we voted in favour of such an amendment in the previous Parliament. Did we not reach that amendment?

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

The hon. Gentleman says that my party was split, but that is news to me. I certainly voted in favour of almost all the amendments that he tabled. Before he says that my party is split, he should consider the Labour party because it is split in many ways.

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

I want an assurance that he will persuade his colleagues.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

I will talk to my colleagues, but the Liberal Democrats do not whip private business—that procedure is shared across the House. My hon. Friends are responsible for the way in which they vote on private business, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would know that.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

No, I shall bring my remarks to a close now. We have had an interesting exchange, and I am delighted to have stated the Liberal Democrat position in public.

Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Shadow Minister (Olympics and London)

There is nothing to flush out; we have been open and transparent throughout. We are in favour of greater democracy and reforming the City corporation, and other hon. Members should agree.

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North 5:33 pm, 15th November 2001

I want to express my appreciation to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this debate. I had expected rather more hon. Members to be present, because this is an important issue. Hon. Members may well wonder why a person from the north-east is concerning himself with a matter that apparently relates only to the capital. The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. The Bill concerns everyone throughout the United Kingdom because it is about the very democracy that we say we hold so dear.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman said that he had heard certain things before. He certainly will not have heard anything that I have said before because he was not present when I said it, and in any case, there will be some variation. These debates are like a bad dream that keeps turning up; we do not seem to make an awful lot of progress. I am trying to speak to the motion as narrowly as I can, but I have to try to explain why I oppose the carry-over motion. All that I want to say subsequently will be based on that, even if I seem to deviate—in any case, I am sure that you will put me right if I stray too far, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I feel a certain bemusement. I have always held Peter Brooke—now Lord Brooke—in high regard. He is a fine democrat and a man of great courtesy. It amazed me that a man of his background should bring forward such a fundamentally undemocratic—indeed, anti-democratic—Bill. I shall extend the same courtesy to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). Again, I hold him in high regard as a democrat, although there are many of his opinions with which I do not agree.

My right hon. Friend the Minister did not give a very convincing performance when we debated the matter last time. I hope that he will do better today, but if he supports the Bill, as I am sure that he will, he is in the same position as the promoters, and it is difficult to speak convincingly when putting forward such a rotten proposal.

We have spent more than an hour talking about reform and improvement. To draw an analogy, some years ago we talked about reforming and improving the poll tax. We must recognise that some things are so fundamentally flawed and rotten that the only thing to do is to eliminate, not reform, them. That is what we want to do with the Bill.

This Chamber is held in high esteem throughout the world as the mother of democratic Parliaments. For people to argue about amending something that is so fundamentally wrong is offensive. I also find it offensive that we are wasting three hours of valuable parliamentary time talking about this rubbish when there are so many important things to discuss. My hon. Friend John McDonnell mentioned the abolition of hunting with dogs. Most of my constituents would be much more interested in making progress on that.

I have to be critical of the Government, because they set the parliamentary timetable. I should like to see them show the same concern if, by some fluke, someone introduced a private Member's Bill that put the City of London in the same category as the rest of the United Kingdom, where every resident in a constituency has one vote and all votes are worth the same.

The Bill is about the property vote, which I thought had been eliminated when I was a child, which was quite a long time ago. I was amazed when I came down here to find just how the City of London corporation operated. I had seen all the bumf about how wonderful it was. I am not criticising the City or the corporation. Whether there is sleaze involved, I do not know. I am still not decided on that one. That is not the issue—the issue is that it is wrong that business and property should interfere with what we regard as the proper democratic process.

Under a property vote system, I would be worth four votes. I have a house in the City of Durham constituency, an office in the Sunderland, North constituency, an office in Westminster and another house in the Southwark, North and Bermondsey constituency. I do not think that I am worth four votes. I am worth one, the same as everyone else.

When we talk about carrying over, there seems to be an element of chicanery involved. My hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) are such skilled interventionists—I almost said obstructionists—that I thought myself fortunate to be able to speak before 7 o'clock, and I do not want to push my luck too far. However, we are spending far too much time talking about intricate details. I raised the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington earlier in the debate. I have had one piece of correspondence from the corporation of London, and I thought that it was insulting. It tried to persuade me that the property vote would be moved away from the concept of the square yardage of the floor area of the building and the system made more democratic by basing it on the number of people working there instead. I thought, "Who are these people trying to kid?" As my colleagues have pointed out, those amendments do not give us a mandate to carry over the Bill.

I have heard no proposal that will enhance democracy. I hope that the Minister is listening carefully. He is certainly writing away assiduously. I feel ashamed that my party, a good democratic organisation, and my Government are giving such garbage a fair wind. I find that not only offensive and embarrassing but incomprehensible.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 5:40 pm, 15th November 2001

My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) has already alluded to the somewhat tortuous circumstances of this debate. I am most grateful for his support in this matter, which is hardly an everyday procedural occurrence even for a seasoned Member, let alone a new one such as me.

I echo the tribute paid by John McDonnell to my predecessor, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, a Member of the House for 24 years who, as the Member for Cities of London and Westminster in the previous Parliament, so skilfully sponsored the Bill.

The scope of the debate is confined, although I note that this fact alone did not prevent the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington from speaking for over an hour. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire has dealt with a number of the issues, and I should like to take the opportunity to make some short points from a constituency standpoint that reinforce the case made so powerfully by my right hon. Friend.

Much has been said in earlier debates on the Bill about what are alleged to be its potentially damaging effects on the resident voice of the common council, and hon. Members have alluded to those this evening. In fact, the Bill will restore the resident-business balance on the common council to its 1900 position. In addition, the wards that are primarily residential in character will remain so under the new proposals. From the residents' viewpoint, however, perhaps the most crucial factor supporting the revival of the Bill is that it will ensure that the City of London is not reduced to a local government area in which the civic administration of the world's leading international financial centre rests on 5,500 voters who happen to live there.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

When the hon. Gentleman was seeking election to the House last summer, did he discuss with the resident population of the City of London the fact that their influence on local government will be diminished by the exaggeration of the business vote, and point out that in trying to influence the running of their services they will be completely outvoted by corporate interests? Did he compare the position with that in the neighbouring borough of Islington, which I have the honour to represent, where businesses have no vote? The only people who have a vote in Islington are those who are ordinarily resident in the borough, and I have never heard of anybody asking for a business vote to be introduced there.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman brought that up. As he well knows, a chunk of the residential population of the City of London, the Golden Lane estate, was transferred to the City from the borough of Islington in 1994. When I was canvassing in Golden Lane, it was evident to me that, almost universally, the residents, many of whom have lived there for many years and had therefore been under the auspices of the much-loved borough of Islington, are much happier being governed by the corporation. I did not go into great detail about the massive change to the franchise, although they are well aware that there will be changes to the voting arrangements if the Bill is passed. However, it was clear to me that in general the residential population of the City do not feel that they are to be disfranchised. Indeed, the opposite is true. They are glad of the opportunity to be residents of the City of London, rather than of the borough of Islington.

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

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the debate. I am sure that we will all grow to know him well during our deliberations on this matter. The key point is that his constituents were previously able to petition against the Bill as part of the process. Did he inform them that it would be changed by the amendment that the sponsor is suggesting? Was he aware of that amendment? If so, did he put it before the electorate to enable them to petition or at least to communicate with him on it? Has he seen the amendment? If so, can he let us have a copy? Can he let the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen have a copy now that they have formed a partnership? That would allow us to discuss it.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I have not seen the amendment. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that only a small proportion of the residential population of my constituency is in the City of London—about 5,500 out of 73,000. As such, the reform was not a major part of my election campaign in May and June. That said, when I met residents of the Barbican, Petticoat square and more generally, it was an issue, although I did not go into precise details. By the same token, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand that I was not at that juncture in a position to put to paper concerns or promises about events that might happen.

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

When the hon. Gentleman is made aware of the amendment's contents, will he consult his constituents who live within the City corporation boundaries? Does he not think it appropriate to give them the right to petition the House on the basis of that amendment?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

In fairness, there has been much consultation in recent years. It is evident to me that the City corporation has done its best to consult residents and ensure that they are aware that change is under way. If the motion to revive is accepted, I undertake to write to all City of London residents to outline the nature of our debate. I will do that in tandem with other issues because the health service and other public services are also important to my constituents.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Labour, Islington North

That is excellent news. In the hon. Gentleman's letter to the residents of the City of London, will he enclose a copy of the excellent speech by my hon. Friend John McDonnell so that, instead of thinking that the Bill is tinkering around with administrative arrangements, they are fully apprised of the arguments for democracy? Will he tell them that the prize for defeating the Bill is to gain control of their local government? [Interruption.] I am sure that if my hon. Friend cannot visit all the residents personally, he will be happy to send them a video of his speech, as my hon. Friend Mr. Skinner suggests.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I am sure that the sheer weight of the hour-long speech by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington will cause the Fees Office to blanch at the cost of sending it out.

The City is the world's leading financial centre. The idea that its civic administration should rest on the 5,500 voters who live there is not appropriate. Such an eventuality would be logically unsustainable and in due course bring forward calls for the abolition of the City corporation. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington might welcome that, but it would be contrary to the wishes of my constituents in the City of London.

On the electorate, one need look no further than the past two boundary commission inquiries. As London Members know, we are going through that rigmarole again. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of City of London residents are keen to remain in the City corporation, with its distinct powers and characteristics. Representatives of the City branch of the constituency Labour party made that point when they gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Bill. Hon. Members will want to take account of the view of City residents when they decide on their attitude to the motion.

As hon. Members would expect me to report, the case for reviving the Bill is supported by the financial sector of the City of London. The most recent survey was conducted in October 2000 and it consulted 150 senior City executives. It showed 91 per cent. support for the Government's decision not to abolish the City corporation and 88 per cent. support for the proposed extension of the franchise.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green

The hon. Gentleman said that he has discussed the proposals with residents. What consultation has taken place with the workers in the City? Can he give us any information on that?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I must inform the hon. Gentleman that I have not been involved in that, not least because many of those workers are not my constituents. It would be wrong for me to make any representations to them, and I am not aware of the precise representations that the City corporation has made. I shall be interested to know whether his constituents made any representations in that regard.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. I understand the temptation to range widely, but it would certainly be a comfort to the Chair if the motion could be mentioned a little more frequently.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington argues that we have had insufficient opportunity to scrutinise the Bill over the past four years. I am not convinced, however, that a new Committee would make a great deal of difference. We have already had plenty of consultation over the years with all imaginable relevant parties.

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

The sponsor of the Bill is offering us either something that is completely ineffectual or a substantial vista of industrial democracy opening up in the City. That is a key issue on which we should consult. Mr. Field has accepted that he has not consulted any members of the work force in the City corporation who will be directly affected by the Bill. However, if the wonderful vista of a soviet in the City is to be established, surely they must be consulted.

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

My reply to Dr. Vis was that it was not my place as the Member of Parliament for Cities of London and Westminster to consult other hon. Members' constituents. I am sure that he accepts that. The organisation of the business franchise has been subject to extensive consultation with City businesses and employees, and details of the proposals have been circulated by the corporation's publication, which comes out on a monthly or bi-monthly basis and has a circulation of 65,000.

Photo of Rudi Vis Rudi Vis Labour, Finchley and Golders Green

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his replies to me and to my hon. Friend John McDonnell. I would object to the hon. Gentleman visiting Finchley unless he told me in advance. However, he can come if he lets me know.

The people to whom he referred will receive a vote, but I do not want him to talk to people in Finchley or other constituencies. I want him to consult the people in the workplaces in the City and ask them, while they are at work, whether they want a vote. That is my point, and it is the one that he is avoiding.

Photo of Sylvia Heal Sylvia Heal Deputy Speaker

Order. When the hon. Gentleman replies, will he relate his remarks to the motion?

Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I endorse the comments of Mr. Davey, who said that we should accept the motion so that we will be able to examine any amendments that might lead to the extension of democracy. Indeed, the promoters are offering amendments that deserve serious consideration, and such consideration can take place only if the Bill is revived. On that basis, I hope that the House will support the revival motion.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government) 5:54 pm, 15th November 2001

Hon. Members will recall that Government representatives, myself included, have spoken in previous debates concerning this Bill. I therefore intend not to speak at length but merely to take a few moments to confirm why the Government believe that it is right for the Bill to have the opportunity to progress.

The Bill contains a number of provisions relating to the existing business franchise about which it is difficult, even for the Bill's main opponents, to complain. I refer specifically to measures designed to curb certain practices that are clearly unsatisfactory. For example, an individual may currently be entitled to a business vote if he or she is an owner or tenant of property in the City with a rateable value of just £10.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government)

If my hon. Friend will bear with me for a moment, I should like to make a little progress. I have only just started my speech but will give way to him in a moment.

I was making the point that current provision allows individual owners or tenants of property with a rateable value of only £10 to have a vote even if they do not maintain a physical presence in the City. The Bill would tighten the definition of occupation to require physical presence on the premises and increase the rateable value threshold needed to qualify for a business vote to £200. It is also currently possible for an individual to be entitled to more than one vote in local elections in the City. The Bill would specifically prevent that. If the Bill is not revived, those anomalies will continue while we wait for another opportunity to end them.

I am surprised that my hon. Friends—I understand their strength of feeling—should, in effect, be advocating the retention of plural voting.

Photo of Bill Etherington Bill Etherington Labour, Sunderland North

I hope that my right hon. Friend is not suggesting that I advocated plural voting, because I spoke against that. I would be surprised if he were to quote me as having such a view. I am interested in the concept of—it is hard to think of the right term; perhaps this is the word to use—proportionality. Two categories come to mind when thinking about business premises and those present. What, for example, would be the position of a self-employed window cleaner who works in the vicinity? What would be the voting arrangements for a football ground, rugby pitch or other sporting facility in the area? Would we have to find out how many people attended over the season and average out that number? I am not trying to be clever, but I feel that I must exaggerate in order to show how ridiculous the concept is.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government)

My hon. Friend made a fair point in his speech about his occupying a number of premises and how he would regard it as wrong for him to have more than one vote. Although I accept entirely that it is not his intention to support plural voting, the effect of his succeeding in blocking the Bill's revival would be to allow the continuation of plural voting. Although I understand the sincerity of his argument, he must recognise that we are dealing with the reality, which is in many ways profoundly unsatisfactory. The Bill seeks to remedy some of those defects. Either he wishes to remedy those defects or not. If he is arguing against the revival of the Bill, he is in effect allowing such abuses to continue.

Several hon. Members:

rose

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government)

On my hon. Friend's specific question, which I shall seek to answer before giving way to some of my other hon. Friends, the definitions as proposed for the qualification for a business vote in the City are quite detailed—I do not intend to go into them as that would be contrary to the purpose of this debate—but would depend entirely on whether the business has premises in the City and the occupiers were working from those premises. Those are reasonably sensible criteria. The question is whether one accepts the premise—I know that my hon. Friend and others do not; I shall come to the matter in a moment—that there should in the unique circumstances of the City of London be a franchise related to residence not just by residential occupiers but by business occupiers.

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

Will my right hon. Friend cut to the quick? Has he seen the invisible amendment up the sleeve of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who is sponsoring the Bill? Has he been consulted on it? Does he know whether No. 10 has had any communication with the City corporation on the amendment? Has there been any correspondence on the matter? If he has seen the amendment, what is his attitude to it? Are the Government supporting it? If he has not seen it, at what stage does he think that it will be produced?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government)

I have not seen the amendment and would not expect to see it because we are considering a revival motion for a Bill that is not drafted in the way that the City corporation indicates it would like it to be drafted. The amendment, as I understand it, responds to specific issues raised in the House in the last Parliament and addressed criticisms made by my hon. Friend, among others. It is slightly bizarre of him to criticise amendments that seek to effect reforms and improvements that he himself advocated in the last Parliament.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government)

I shall give way once more. However, I wish to make progress as the House has been at this rather a long time.

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

I do not know whether my right hon. Friend heard what he just said. He said that the motion seeks to revive a Bill that is not acceptable to the City corporation; it is about to be amended because it is unacceptable, yet we are being asked to revive it. The only amendment that I have seen is one that was floated 12 months ago, which did not respond in any way to our criticisms. It was a veiled way of bringing back a vote based on rateable value and businesses. I cannot believe that the City corporation has not consulted someone in Government. When our debate has finished, will my right hon. Friend go to No. 10 and ask who has been in dialogue with the City corporation?

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government)

I am sorry that my hon. Friend is being obtuse. A simple point is at stake—whether the Bill should be revived and, if so, whether it should be amended in the light of criticisms made during previous considerations. If my hon. Friend believed that the considerable period that the House has spent on the Bill will improve it, I would agree. However, he does not seem to take that view. As everyone knows, he does not like the Bill or the City corporation. He is doing everything possible to avoid any reform or change at all. I understand his position, but—

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government)

No; I have given way twice to my hon. Friend and I do not intend to do so again. He is opposed to the measure and does not wish it to proceed. A little frank speaking, rather than the pretence of speaking to the amendments, would be a lot better.

The main contention levelled against the Bill concerns the concept of expanding the business franchise to include the large number of companies in the City. I understand why its opponents, including many of my hon. Friends, find the expansion of a property-based business vote unacceptable. However, the reality is that such a franchise already exists for local elections in the City. It has long been accepted that that is the appropriate franchise for the unique circumstances of the City, which is essentially a business district with a resident population of about only 5,500 people, which would not make it a viable district for local government under any other circumstances. If we accept that in the unique circumstances of the City corporation it is appropriate that local business people should have a say in the election of those who make decisions for their area, it is wholly inappropriate that that right should be available only to unincorporated businesses.

The Bill would correct a huge imbalance. Sole traders and partnerships between them determine elections to the non-residential wards in the City's local elections, while incorporated businesses and the many people who work in them have no say whatsoever. The Bill includes provisions to determine how many votes are allocated to a company and to whom they are distributed within it.

Photo of Nick Raynsford Nick Raynsford Minister of State (Department of Transport, Local Government and Regions) (Local Government)

No, I have taken several interventions, and I intend to make progress.

The recent statement by the promoters of the Bill indicates their intention to break the link between property and voting rights by replacing the rateable value as the basis for calculating entitlement to vote with a formula based on the number of employees. It is important that Members are aware of the wider reforms, to which the Bill is integral, that the City of London corporation is progressing. The special report of the Committee that considered the Bill welcomed the boundary review volunteered by the promoters and the need to reduce the overall number of elected members in the common council. Both the boundary review and the reduction in elected members are proceeding in line with undertakings from the corporation to ensure that the position of residential voters would not suffer as the result of the introduction of the corporate franchise envisaged in the Bill.

However, I fear for the completion of those processes should the Bill fail to be revived today. Those members of the corporation who are opposed to modernisation are more likely to gain ground if there is disillusionment at the House's rejection of the reform of the business vote set out in the Bill. I think they would be asking, "Why should we continue to propose reforms if Parliament has rejected the legislation that the measures anticipate?"

In summary, the Government believe that the revival of the Bill is the right way forward because the measures in the Bill seem reasonable and, in parts, long overdue. Secondly, to kill off the Bill would be a real setback for the process of modernisation of the corporation, and would allow the continuation of entirely unacceptable practices that no hon. Member could possibly wish to see perpetuated. I therefore urge all Members to vote in favour of the Bill's revival.

Question put:—

The House divided:- Ayes 156, Noes 33.

Division number 64

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Question accordingly agreed to.

Ordered,

That the promoters of the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill which originated in this House in the last Parliament but had not received the Royal Assent may, notwithstanding anything in the Standing Orders or practice of this House, proceed with the bill in the present session of Parliament; and the petition for the bill shall be deemed to have been deposited and all Standing Orders applicable to it shall be deemed to have been complied with;

That the bill shall be presented to the House by deposit in the Private Bill Office no later than the fifth day on which the House sits after this day;

That a declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the bill, stating that it is the same in every respect as the bill presented in this House in the last Parliament;

That on the next sitting day following presentation, the Clerk in the Private Bill Office shall lay the bill on the Table of the House;

That in the present session of Parliament the bill shall be deemed to have passed through every stage through which it has passed in the last Parliament, and shall be recorded in the Journal of the House as having passed those stages;

That no further fees shall be charged to such stages.

Message to the Lords to acquaint them therewith.