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Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the House is debating a carry-over motion. He can apply his arguments in the next Session.

Mr. McDonnell: That is, if the Bill gets to the next Session: I believe that the arguments we advance tonight will ensure that the Bill goes no further. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you will permit me to elaborate on why the Bill does not deserve to be carried over.

In July, the then Minister for London and Construction, my hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford), argued that the Bill was the first stage of a sequence--a "drive for reform". We were told that if we voted against the Bill at any stage, that drive for reform would be stifled. That is laughable--how can a Labour Minister believe that the extension of the right to buy votes can be part of a drive for democratic reform? Such a Bill does not even deserve publication, let alone carry-over. It is embarrassing to see such a fawning bending of a Labour Minister's knee to privilege. I do not want to give Millbank any ideas, but we should be grateful for the mercy that the same system has not been introduced for the selection of the Labour candidate for London's mayor.

Turning to the concessions set out in the Bill, one has to ask whether they justify its being carried over. Like drawing teeth from a rotting carcase, those supposed concessions have been wrung out of the City corporation during the Bill's passage. The first is that voters should have a "connection" with the City. We are asked to be grateful for the fact that the person who casts a vote should have a vague connection to the place in which his or her vote will determine the services, environment and future of the residents. What a revolutionary concession--we have missed an opportunity for an Eisenstein film following on from "The Battleship Potemkin".

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The second concession is the requirement that the persons appointed as voters must reflect the composition of the work force. On that is based the argument in favour of supporting the carry-over, as it is a breakthrough that the City corporation appears to have accepted some elements of equal opportunities within the Bill. There is a view that, even if the corporation would never have accepted universal suffrage, we might have been able to make an amendment to the Bill that allowed the business vote to be based on a ballot of the work force of the businesses, thereby enfranchising the workers who spend their days in the City creating the wealth that the City corporation throws about so blatantly. However, such an amendment was rejected and there are to be no votes for workers, so there is no rational basis for carrying over the Bill in the interests of workers.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Once again, I remind the hon. Gentleman to be careful to stay in order. We are debating the carry-over motion, not details of the Bill.

Mr. McDonnell: With the greatest respect, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it is difficult not to explore the details of the justification for the carry-over. However, I assure you that, as usual, I will take your advice.

It is claimed that, under the proposal, workers will be somehow enfranchised not because they will be granted a vote, but because nominations by business will reflect the work force. That is no reason for the workers to beat on the doors of the Chamber, urging for the Bill to be carried over. How can there be a carry-over when there is no justification for that course of action?

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome): Has the hon. Gentleman noticed that the arrangements in this Bill are similar to those in the so-called functional constituencies in Hong Kong, which were roundly condemned by the British Government and many others as being totally undemocratic? They were devised by the Chinese Government as a way of avoiding universal franchise in Hong Kong. I wonder why such measures are considered suitable for London.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The situation in Hong Kong is not relevant to this carry-over motion.

Mr. McDonnell: I remind hon. Members that it is dangerous to criticise the Chinese Government in this society. I move on.

A third concession is that the Bill's promoters will be required to report to the Secretary of State on the workings of the provisions of the legislation within five years. The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who chaired the Opposed Private Bill Committee that considered the Bill--he has now left the Chamber--believed that this was a critical concession that would allow the House to return later to debate the reform of the City corporation. That is an important point upon which to base a vote in favour of the carry-over motion this evening.

We should note, however, that the Bill does not allow the House to launch a full-scale review of the City corporation and does not provide an opportunity to plan further democratic reform as the Chairman and members of the Opposed Private Bill Committee honestly

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envisaged. The proposed report would be narrow and undefined: it would be a review of the workings not of the City corporation, but of the Bill. For example, the Bill does not refer to enfranchising workers in the City, to increasing weighting for residents' votes or offering residents further protection. On that basis, the support that the Committee Chairman gave to the City corporation's undertaking in this clause is not a reason for backing the carry-over motion.

Outside that provision, is there potential for further democratic reform? There is no such potential in the Bill, so the reporting mechanism in the legislation does not justify its carry over as part of a future democratic reform process. In fact, if carried over, the Bill will stifle any drive for reform. Apart from the Bill, the argument for carry-over is based on the undertakings of a supposed wider package of reforming measures--which I believe are derisory sops and an insult to the House.

The measures include changes in boundaries, protection of the proportion of residential members elected, electors and members, and internal reviews that are not subject to supervision by the local government boundary commission, which oversees every other local authority. There is an undertaking that nominations from a qualifying body will be signed by an authorised and identified officer and that ward lists to identify qualifying bodies will be published. Those undertakings, which were given by the promoters and are not in the Bill, are designed to protect the status quo: they do not improve the position of residents or the democratic process of the City corporation. In some cases, they introduce basic standards of electoral administration that were put in place in the rest of the country a century ago. Should we be grateful for those undertakings and march through the Lobby tonight to vote to carry the Bill forward?

The key point is that those undertakings do not depend upon the passage of the Bill. If those improvements should be made--they do not require legislation, as the promoters suggest--I urge the City corporation to get on with them. The reforms can be introduced even if the Bill is not carried over.

Paragraph 4 of the statement from the Bill's promoters says that the legislation's provisions will be extended to include a wider business interest. I understand the argument--which has been made by Opposition Members--that we should modernise business interests within the City corporation. If the City corporation wishes to establish a stakeholder council comprising residents, businesses and employees--the workers who create the wealth--so be it. Let it introduce such a Bill. I can appreciate at least that that would be a debatable advance on the business board dominance of the City corporation.

This Bill does not do that--nor is that its intention. We have been advised that the City corporation does not intend to introduce amendments at any carry-over phase that would enable us to establish a stakeholder structure. The Bill's objective is to embed the power of business and wealth in this crevice of our political system into the next millennium. Worse still, it extends the right to buy votes. This is the last rotten borough. It should have been dealt with by past Labour Governments, but they lost their nerve--as I regret this Government are doing.

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Although the Government have stated that the vote on the Bill is unwhipped, we know that they have indicated forcefully through their Whips that they wish the Bill to proceed. The Government send Ministers to the House to defend that bastion of privilege. In the week that the Government have moved a step closer to abolishing the privilege of the unelected House of Lords, they seek to bolster and secure the unelected power of the City corporation. Worse still--this is a strong argument for hon. Members who represent London constituencies--under the Greater London Authority Bill, which we are to discuss on Thursday, the Government will give the unelected business-appointed free masonry of the City corporation the right to be treated as the equivalent of any London borough in determining general policies for London with the newly elected mayor and the strategic authority for London. It means that the grotesquely undemocratic, deformed City corporation will have a say in the policies of my city and my constituency in areas such as transport, planning, the environment, policing and so on.

Worse still, the City corporation refuses to pay its way by funding the strategic policies needed to provide a new start for London. It refuses to open its books to public scrutiny. Another argument for not carrying over the Bill is the City corporation's continuing refusal to inform us of the billions of pounds in its City cash account or to amend the Bill to allow public scrutiny of that account. There is no point carrying over the Bill and introducing this concoction of supposed democratic reforms unless we can see the cash.

It is argued that we have opposed the Bill and called for democratic reform of the City corporation and its finances because we are seeking to blackmail the corporation into spending more money in London. I suppose we are doing that: we are trying to open the books of the City corporation and to ensure that they are accountable to the City of London overall. Without democratic reform of the City corporation, the City will never pull its weight in supporting our capital. It will remain the self-interested, isolated dining club that it has been for the past century.

Therefore, it falls to those of us who are democrats to throw out this Bill tonight by refusing the carry-over and demanding a real reform Bill. The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke) asked me to meet City corporation representatives, and I am keen to do so. I will be delighted to lead a delegation from the House to assist in drafting a new reform Bill. Someone in my party stated recently that our battle is with the forces of conservatism. We are up against those forces in this Bill. These are not insecure teachers, council workers, air traffic controllers or London Underground staff, but the real forces of conservatism. Yet we are conspiring to create a smokescreen of reform that allows those forces of conservatism to continue their entrenched affront to democracy into another millennium. The Bill is trivial, but significant; meaningless, yet immensely symbolic. In two weeks, we shall have major debates on welfare reform, asylum issues, Lords reform and the new government of London. This Bill pales into trivia when compared to them. The sight of a reforming Labour Government supporting the last bastion of political corruption and privilege in the local government system demeans us all. Supporting the carry-over of this Bill means that we would deny the right to vote to 250,000 workers who create the wealth of the City.

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I shall vote against the motion tonight, but I give a warning. If it is accepted and the Bill returns in the next Session, I, along with many colleagues, will continue to bombard it with amendments in a war of attrition to ensure that some democratic advance is achieved during that process. Someone once said, "Set our people free". We shall eventually set the City free from this type of political corruption.


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