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

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

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

Ms Abbott: My hon. Friend makes a good point about the City's enormous wealth, which is not related to its

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system of local governance. That wealth could do much good in the adjoining borough of Hackney, which is my borough.

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

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

I want to ask my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction a question. Labour's document, "New Leadership for London", concerns the creation of a Greater London authority. Among other things, it said that the Government's objective is

How does that sit with the creation of the authority envisaged by the Bill, which will vest more political power in the hands of the wealthy and those who own property and land in the City of London?

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

9.2 pm

Mr. Nigel Waterson (Eastbourne): I am pleased to have the chance to make a brief intervention in this fascinating debate to make the point--

Mr. McDonnell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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

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

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I was in the Chamber when the hon. Gentleman raised the question of Members'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. McDonnell: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Waterson: No, I will not give way.

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

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

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

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

The City of London corporation has undertaken widespread consultation on its proposals through City Review and in other ways. It has published a rather excellent leaflet, "Improving the City's Franchise", which makes several telling points in the context of the Bill. It talks of the need for the corporation to be

and the fact that

    "businesses pay considerable sums towards the cost of local government."

The corporation states:

    "We believe that a corporate voting system is a natural development of the existing system".

There is also discussion of the nature of a commuter vote. One reason why the City is totally different from anywhere else and cannot be regarded as a local authority in the traditional sense is that while it may have about 5,000 adult residents, some 250,000 people go there every day to earn their living. How are they to be given any say in the running of their place of work?

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

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

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

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