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Mr. Woodward: The hon. Gentleman asks me whether I think that the Bill is a bad Bill. It may not be perfect, but I do not believe that it is a bad Bill.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington had much to say against the Bill, but almost nothing he said dealt with the carry-over motion.

The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen) lamented the lack of parliamentary time. We echo those sentiments. We are concerned about the way in which the Government are managing the business of the House at the moment. The latest suggestion, which is that they intend to guillotine Thursday's debate of the Greater London Authority Bill, is an outrage: Londoners will note that the Government are doing that even though we shall be debating more than 800 Government amendments added to the Bill since it left the House.

Mr. Bermingham: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. What have Thursday and the GLA got to do with the carry-over motion? You ruled against me; I am now asking you to rule against the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. So far, the hon. Gentleman has been in good order. [Interruption.] Order. Had it been otherwise, I would have said so.

Mr. Woodward: As always, Mr. Deputy Speaker, your words are words of wisdom, and sagaciously considered.

The City of London is indeed unique--unique in its national role, in its size, its population, its local finance, its responsibilities, its work in the arts and its charitable work. The City is unique, too, in having an electoral system that was unaffected when, in 1969, the non-residential vote was abolished for local government elections.

The Home Secretary of the time--now Lord Callaghan--said of retaining the City's non-residential franchise, with its "very small resident population" and its

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"heavy local government responsibilities", that the City of London constituted a quite "special and exceptional case." The special and exceptional case continues to be a reason for us to recognise that the Bill should be carried over.

For those reasons alone, the Bill, and the work and parliamentary time that went into creating it, should not be wasted: it should be carried over.

The City of London is one of the world's most important international financial centres, contributing 10 per cent. of this country's gross domestic product. The signal that we send tonight in carrying over the Bill is an important signal to the City. For the people who live and work in the City, too, it is important that we carry over the Bill. The Bill may represent at the moment only 6,000 residents, but the City's housing stock, represented largely by the Barbican, Golden Lane and Mansell Street council estates, means that it has one of the highest densities of population in Europe. The Bill matters to those people and to the more than 250,000 people who commute to the City every day. It is, and remains, an exceptional situation.

We need to make progress on the Bill, because the House should demonstrate that it recognises the contribution that the City makes to our national economy and our life. The City's role in culture, environment and charities is vital, not only within the square mile but outside it. That is why we are giving our support to carry this private Bill over. It provides for a special franchise for this special case and permits exceptions to the norm for a municipality that is unique.

Exceptionally, the community of the City of London consists, in large part, of its businesses. That is why, in addition to the usual universal franchise for residents, the vote will be extended to non-residents. If the franchise is not updated, the business interests of the City will be represented by an increasingly anachronistic, unrepresentative body of sole traders and partnerships, and it surely cannot be the wish of the House to perpetuate such a state.

The Opposition are fully committed to strengthening communities. We want to give those who live and work in that exceptional space control of their local government. In the unique case of the City of London, the reform will go a long way to achieving fairer representation.

The Conservative party believes in the role of the City, both in London and in the country. The City works well for London. It will work even better with the Bill, which is why the Bill should be carried over. We should not endanger, even in the smallest way, the continued international pre-eminence of the City by preventing the Bill from being carried over.

I accept that some Labour Members have honourable objections to the Bill. We disagree with them, and feel that in most cases their objections to the carry-over motion are fuelled by a desire not to improve the Bill but to destroy it--not to produce fairer representation and better government, but effectively to leave the status quo in place.

The hon. Member for Leyton and Wanstead spoke of the money being expended by Parliament in debating the carry-over. The waste of money would surely be not in debating the motion, but in losing the Bill and failing to carry it over.

The City is unique. Its geographical footprint may be tiny, but its real footprint covers many aspects of London life and, in financial terms, the globe. We believe that

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reform is necessary and we are keen for progress on it, but reform will not come if the Bill fails to be carried over tonight. We urge the House to support the motion.

8.22 pm

Mr. Phil Sawford (Kettering): I served on the Committee that considered the Bill--an experience that I welcomed, as it was extremely educational. I learned a great deal, after my 20 years in local government. I learned of wards that had no electors. I heard of councillors who were never subjected to elections. I emerged from the Committee enlightened by the experience.

I welcome the opportunity tonight to discuss the carry-over motion. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and others have advanced numerous serious arguments about the Bill. It was a private Bill. The Committee felt constrained by the terms of such a Bill. We had to search the House to find Committee Clerks and advisers who could remember the last private Bill. I was told that the last one was a hybrid Bill on the channel tunnel, so long was it since we considered a private Bill.

We were told that under the terms of a private Bill, there were strict limitations on what we could propose and the amendments that we could table. Within those constraints and in a quasi-judicial forum, it was difficult to pursue any kind of democratic agenda or procedures to widen the terms of the Bill. Although the representatives of the City had come with good intentions and although they were motivated to move forward, open up the franchise and encourage businesses in the City to take a closer interest in the affairs of the City, even they realised as the debate progressed that they had not gone far enough.

Mr. David Heath: From his experience on the Committee, can the hon. Gentleman tell me why a Government who purport to be a reforming Government could not introduce reform of the City of London in a local government Bill?

Mr. Sawford: I must take care how I respond to that. The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. As I understand it, the City of London corporation predates Parliament. Therefore Parliament does not have the power to dictate terms to the City of London. We do not have the legislative power to make such changes.

Mr. Skinner: Is my hon. Friend saying that the City of London has had more carry-over motions than we have had?

Mr. Sawford: The City has been carrying over for more than 1,000 years.

The Committee understood that its powers were strictly limited. The question this evening is whether the debate should continue. It is suggested by the Opposition that if we do not carry over the Bill, we accept the status quo. That is not necessarily so. Clear signals can go from the Chamber that many of us do not accept the status quo.

If we support the carry-over motion, do we not as a Parliament endorse the status quo, with modest amendments? That is the effect of continuing the debate and agreeing the carry-over. We are endorsing those

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modest reforms, the inadequacies and undemocratic nature of which have been exposed by hon. Members, who have rightly been called to order by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as we are not discussing the merits of the Bill.

Some of the motion's shortcomings have been exposed. If we vote against it, we can invite Ministers, representatives of the City of London, the corporation and even the odd Back Bencher--possibly my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington--to get round the table for further discussion of the reform of the City.

Perhaps we can invite the City corporation to produce another Bill that truly reforms the City of London. That, I sense, is what many hon. Members, as democrats, want. I am not using that as a term of abuse; I mean that we are democratically elected representatives.

I do not doubt the motives of the City of London. Its representatives want to change and are looking for a way forward. However, the Bill needs closer scrutiny and a broader approach. It must be subject to wider public debate. What we need for the City of London is an institution for the next millennium, not the continuation of an institution that served the last millennium.

Mr. Bermingham: My hon. Friend is rich and generous in his words. Is not "modernise" the word that he is missing?


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