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2 Nov 1999 : Column 165

City of London (Ward Elections) Bill

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [28 October].

Motion made, and Question proposed,

7.14 pm

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are about to consider further the carry-over resolution on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill. On previous consideration of the Bill, I asked whether the Human Rights Act 1998 applied to it. We were informed that section 19 of that Act, which obliges the promoter of a public Bill--a Minister--to make a statement about the compliance of proposed legislation with that Act, did not apply to a private Bill. When I raised the matter, we were informed that as there was no Minister promoting or in charge of the Bill, because it was a private Bill, that section of the Human Rights Act did not apply.

May I ask for clarification from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker--if not this evening, at least for the future? I hope that this Bill will die tonight, but for future such legislation, we need to know whether the House can be advised whether the Human Rights Act applies to private legislation.

Surely any legislation coming before the House must comply with the Human Rights Act, which the House passed overwhelmingly in November 1998. Surely the House must be advised in some way--if not by a Minister, by an Officer of the House--whether a piece of proposed legislation that comes before the House complies with that Act, and with the human rights convention. I seek clarification from you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the sake of our consideration of future legislation.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his

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point of order. As the House knows, there is nothing in the Human Rights Act that applies its provisions to private legislation. The House will also understand that it is not possible for the occupant of the Chair unilaterally to change the rules of the House, which are of general application, in respect of the Bill that is the subject of tonight's carry-over motion. However, I believe that what the hon. Gentleman has said in making his point of order will be given further consideration, and I thank him for raising the matter.

7.17 pm

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): The principle reflected in this evening's motion--that a private Bill may be carried over from one Session to the next--is well established. It informed the recommendations of the Modernisation Committee's third report, on carrying over public Bills, which was agreed by the House on 9 March 1998.

We have recent experience of the carry-over procedure for the Financial Services and Markets Bill, which was debated last week. That was a novelty, but the practice of carrying over private Bills is well established. Paragraph 3 of the report of the Modernisation Committee says:

The procedure is often--perhaps I may even venture to say usually--a formality. The London Local Authorities Bill, for instance, was carried over without debate last week. The Bill before us has, as I have particular reason to know, enjoyed a degree of controversy in the House. Subject to the will of the House in supporting the motion, I have no doubt that we shall have further debates in the new Session on the substance of the Bill--but tonight is procedural, and I will therefore not seek now to range over its detailed provisions.

I would, however, like to refer to the principle of the use of rateable values in the Bill to establish the number of people eligible for appointment, and to the Select Committee's special report, because both are clearly of interest to many hon. Members.

The use of rateable values in the Bill is simply a mechanism to achieve an end--to give the many City businesses that are now incorporated rather than conducted as partnerships or sole proprietorships a voice. That can be misleadingly portrayed as a concept that predates the great Reform Act, and equates money to votes, conjuring up the picture of individuals voting strength being dependent on the size of the property that they occupy.

I first invite hon. Members to recall the fact that when, in 1835, the Municipal Corporations Act reformed the local government franchise in the wake of the changes to the parliamentary franchise, the electoral qualification that was put in place comprehended the £10 ratepayer vote. For businesses in the City, the link between rateable value and voting entitlement has endured because of the reasons set out by Lord Callaghan, when he was Home Secretary, during the debate on the Representation of the People Bill in November 1968. Those reasons were recorded on Second Reading of this Bill, so I shall not repeat them.

In relation to the link, clause 3 makes it clear that the ability to appoint any voter applies to incorporated or unincorporated bodies and not to individuals. Moreover, the Bill is explicit in providing that no individual will be

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able to have more than one vote in any ward election. Thus, the notion that the Bill provides for an individual's voting strength to be proportional to the size of the property that he occupies is quite mistaken.

In addition, in making appointments, newly eligible businesses, which have a multiple entitlement to appoint individuals, will be required to have regard to the composition of their work force. That is in clause 4. Those whom businesses appoint will need to have a strong association with the City--at the very least they must have been working there, for the past year, for the business that appoints them. If retired--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I am always reluctant to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, but he has already commented that we are debating a carry-over motion and not the content of the Bill. Perhaps he might bear that in mind.

Mr. Brooke: I am most grateful for your rebuke, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was seeking to head off the charge that I was making no reference whatever to what the Bill was about.

Sir Peter Emery (East Devon): I was the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure in the late 1980s, which originally recommended a carry-over procedure for private Bills--a fact to which my right hon. Friend was kind enough to refer. It is important for the House to take account of the fact that a carry-over motion is designed specifically to ensure that the expense and the work on such a Bill that have already taken place, with considerable effort from the promoters--whether the City of London or others--are not lost.

The motion is not designed to defeat a Bill because someone objects to its contents; it is intended to ensure that the Bill can be fully considered at a later stage. After the amount of work that has gone into this Bill and its amendments, it would seem extremely strange if the House did not to agree to its being carried over so that it could proceed in the normal manner.

Mr. Brooke: I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for that intervention. It was more helpful than he could have imagined, because it gave me the opportunity to examine how I could adjust my speech in the light of your observations, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. McDonnell: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This may give the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) a little more time. Will you clarify whether your ruling means that we are not allowed to refer to the quality of the Bill in the debate on the motion? For most of us, the deciding factor will be whether the Bill deserves to be carried over.

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