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7.50 pm

Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead): I endorse the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and I oppose the carry-over of the Bill to the next Session. As he said, the Government have told us that there is no time for other important measures and I am sure that the same will be said in the next Session. For example, fox hunting has not been tackled because Parliament has not had sufficient time to do so.

Why should this Bill be carried over? We all know that, if public Bills are not enacted before the end of a Session, they fall. Indeed, Government Whips are in a muck sweat about the Welfare Reform and Pensions Bill, the Immigration and Asylum Bill and the House of Lords Bill. They are desperate--to the extent that they may have to play ping-pong with the other place--to get them through all their stages before the end of the Session. Why should this private Bill receive special privilege?

Sir Peter Emery: There is a procedural explanation. The Government have the right, on any of their public Bills, to introduce a guillotine and to force a Bill through the House in whatever time scale they wish. [Interruption.] That procedure is not available for a private Bill raised by a private corporation. Therefore, when a corporation has gone to the expense and everything else to carry it through, it should be allowed the opportunity of ensuring that the Bill can be properly considered--and, if necessary, defeated--on Third Reading. A private Bill should be able at least to reach that stage.

Mr. Cohen: My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) reminds me that the Conservatives introduced the guillotine procedure and used it many times in government. I do not understand why a private Bill should be treated differently from a public Bill. The existence of the guillotine procedure does not mean that private Bills should receive special treatment.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): I wanted to convey to my hon. Friend the fact that, in the time that I have been a Member, there were no carry-over motions for many years until the Tory Government backed private measures to widen access to the ports around the coasts of Britain, so that they could bring in more imported coal and shut the pits. Hey presto, in the past 18 years, along came a Tory Government who said that they wanted to carry through such measures for the ports and they introduced a carry-over motion to enable them to do so. That is what is happening today. The example was set by the previous Government, and this Government have picked up the same cudgel.

Mr. Cohen: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's explanation.

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If the rules mean that there is no carry-over for public Bills, there should not be special treatment for private Bills. The Bills of Back Benchers do not receive special treatment--the guillotine cannot be applied to them--so the argument of the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) falls flat.

Cost is another reason against the carry-over. The estimates in a House of Commons Commission report show--the figures do not take account of the estimated expenditure on Portcullis House--that the costs of running this House will amount to £213 million next year. I have done a calculation based on the 157 sitting days in the Session, and worked out that the cost is about £1.36 million a sitting day. This debate is taking up half a sitting day, so that represents a cost of about £680,000 if we take into account all the costs associated with the running of the House. This Bill has already been debated a couple of times, which means that it has received a couple of millions pounds' worth of parliamentary time. I do not see why it should receive another £1 million worth of time in the next Session.

The carry-over is all about special pleading and special treatment for the City of London. No City Bill has been rejected by Parliament for hundreds of year or since the mists of time. We should therefore assume that the City can get away with virtually anything, however antiquated, undemocratic and unreasonable that may be. The Bill is not worthy of a carry-over.

This Labour Government are proud of their modernisation agenda. This Bill, even as amended in Committee, cannot possibly be regarded as modernising. Even the Earl of Burford would be happy with it. The City remains a rarefied mixture of feudalism and business privilege.

Other business centres are developing and some will be more powerful than the City in the future. One example is docklands in London. Businesses there are potentially much more powerful than the residents who live in the area. Are those residents' democratic rights to be pushed aside following the precedent that the City corporation continues to set, which is further enshrined in the Bill?

The Bill is deeply flawed in other ways. The statement of the Bill's promoters says that

That provision does not appear in the Bill itself. However, residents can easily be outvoted by businesses under the system that is proposed. It is a convoluted voting scale. I shall not go into all the details in the promoters' statement, but, if one buys a shed in the City of London with a rateable value of £200 or more, one can have a vote.

The promoters' statement adds that the number of persons who may be appointed by a qualifying body to vote increases with rateable value. The system is convoluted and complicated. The need to have property rights to be able to vote does not constitute one person, one vote. As my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington pointed out, it is not a system of universal suffrage. There will be 100 common councillors and 25 aldermen on the Court of Common Council.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman heard me tell the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington

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(Mr. McDonnell) that we are discussing the carry-over motion. The details of the Bill have nothing to do with tonight's proceedings.

Mr. Cohen: I appreciate that point and take it on board, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was merely making the point that the Bill is not worthy of the carry-over and the extra expenditure that I mentioned earlier.

I shall not dwell on the point about the membership of the Court of Common Council, only to say that the Greater London Authority will have only 25 members for the whole of the rest of London. Why does the City corporation have to be so out of proportion? Again, it is an example of the special treatment that it is receiving and of which the carry-over motion is a part.

The promoters' statement also refers to the 250,000 commuters who come to the City every day. They suggest that that is a reason for the corporation to receive special treatment. It implied that they would have a say in the City corporation's new arrangements. If they are a factor in the special arrangements, why are not they all put on a register and given individual votes? Why are just the property-owning bosses of those commuters to have the vote? I thought that we had long ago realised that bosses do not automatically speak for their employees. People have a vote where they live, not where they travel to. Allowing the latter is a recipe for chaos.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury): The hon. Members for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) and for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) have been rich in criticism of the City, but if the Bill falls, the status quo prevails. In the circumstances, does the hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead expect the Government to introduce a Government Bill, in Government time, to reform the City? Does he want the status quo to prevail?

Mr. Cohen: I shall describe the change that I want later in my speech. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman because once the change occurred, the City of London would be protected from further reform for the indefinite future, and be in a stronger position to continue that mix of feudalism and business privilege to which I referred. It would be better if the Bill failed, and that is why I am arguing that it should not be carried over.

The vast majority of people in the financial and business community in the City of London are indifferent to the running of corporation affairs. They are interested in national economics and politics--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. It is a pity that the Deputy Speaker must keep intervening. Once again, the hon. Member is straying from the business before us.

Mr. Cohen: In deference to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I will not pursue the point further.

The key point is the special pleading and the privilege that the City is to enjoy as a result of the motion. I do not think that the House should grant that. Another reason is that we would end up with a problem of two mayors of London. That would be an anomaly, and could make London look daft. Two mayors could easily hinder each other.

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I would rather that the Bill failed than be carried over eventually to strengthen the City. The City corporation covers too small an area to be an authority in its own right; everyone really knows that it should be integrated in the Greater London Authority. It is a constitutional anomaly that, for the main part, has outlived its usefulness.

I do not say that the corporation does not do some good work in London, as I mentioned in debates on earlier stages of the Bill. The one proviso in my argument is its management of open land.

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