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Mr. Sawford: I was about to move on to that. We need to look for progress, and the next word is "modernise". I confess that I am not a moderniser per se, but we need to further our democratic institutions. I fought the election to the House on the future, not the past; the many not the few--all that is still on my pager--and the Bill is about the future, not the past; the many, not the few.

I do not believe that the Bill is consistent with the values and principles of the House of Commons. It is a privilege to be part of this process, to be a Member of the House and to fight for those values and principles in which the people who voted for me believe. The Bill is not consistent with that. It is time for the House, as a democratic institution, to look for a way forward. The City, the Government and the Chamber may have painted themselves into a corner. The Bill, if carried over, will take a tremendous amount of Parliament's time. Amendment on amendment will be tabled. Phrases such as "war of attrition" have been mentioned. People with strong views are strongly opposed to the Bill.

Perhaps we can get ourselves out of that corner this evening. It might not find favour with the Government to suggest it, but I invite my hon. Friends and all hon. Members to get us out of the position in which we find ourselves by voting against the carry-over. Then we could look for genuine reform and a genuine way out of the corner and we could have further discussions and further debate. The City could review the whole issue and bring back a better Bill with a better chance of being passed by the House which would not face the opposition that this Bill will face--no matter whether it is carried over or how many nights we spend on it. I invite Members of the House to vote against a carry-over. Let us try to move the agenda on with a better, more reforming Bill--a Bill for the new millennium.

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8.31 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey): No Member of the House thinks that the proposals on the table will change the City of London from an old-fashioned, out-of-date local government structure into a modern, up-to-date one. I have heard no argument from either side of the Chamber that this is the Bill that ought to be before us. We debated that issue on Second Reading.

The Bill is not whipped by the Liberal Democrats and my colleagues voted both for and against Second Reading on 14 July. Tonight we are debating whether the Bill should be carried over to the next Session. I shall make three brief points about that.

The point was well made earlier that Parliament has mechanisms, whether we like them or not, for getting Government business through in a Session. We have often debated whether we should have mechanisms for carrying over public legislation from one Session to another--for example, to deal with a filibuster undertaken by a Member of Parliament against the will of 657 other Members.

That is one debate. Private Bills have the disadvantage that, although we allow them, whether they are given time depends on an obscure system whereby the Chairman of Ways and Means allocates time under Standing Orders providing for a certain amount of private Bill time each year. Forget for a second the issue of what Bill is being debated; my colleagues and I believe it is nonsense that a Bill that might have huge merit could receive only limited time and have to go back to the beginning of the process of getting it through the House at the start of the following year.

I understand the argument. It could be said that if public Bills cannot get through the House in a year, nor should private Bills, but the mechanism for getting public Bills through the process is different from that used for private Bills. Therefore there is no logic to having the same rules for private Bills. We take the view that there should be a facility to carry a private Bill over from one Session to another. That applies irrespective of the Bill; as a result, it is proper that a motion concerning whether we want to carry the Bill over should be tabled.

Mr. Bermingham: Does the hon. Gentleman remember, as I do, the Ginns and Gutteridge, Leicester (Crematorium) Bill, which Lord Janner, who is now in the other place, fought tenaciously year in, year out? An enormous amount of parliamentary time was wasted on a bad Bill. Is he suggesting that as much parliamentary time should be wasted on another bad Bill when it could be taken away and made into a good one?

Mr. Hughes: The hon. Gentleman has asked two questions. The first was whether I remembered the Leicester crematorium Bill and the answer is: not very clearly. It is not one of the great recollections of my political career. The second question was whether we have a system that allows us to spend a lot of time next year and the year after on a private Bill which none of us would like, or whether we should cut it off tonight and--the hon. Gentleman cannot argue that it is precluded--allow a similar Bill to be reintroduced in November. As well as being a better Bill, it could be a similar Bill.

The hon. Gentleman's argument is flawed, because saying that there should be no carry-over does not preclude the promoters of the Bill--in this case the City

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of London corporation--coming to this place with an identical or similar Bill to the Bill before us. We therefore would not stop the promoters promoting similar legislation simply by saying that there will be no carry-over. If we could do that, there would be a different debate.

Mr. Bermingham: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, if we set a precedent by throwing out a bad Bill, we would send a message to the promoters of private Bills that they either take into account the will of the House or they cannot come back with other, similar Bills?

Mr. Hughes: I understand that point. The problem is that we do not have the Standing Orders to do that. If our rules allowed us to, and if we threw out a Bill one Session and it was brought it back the next, to ensure that the promoters got it no further, we could deal with that problem. However, we cannot. Given that the date for the introduction of private Bills is November each year, unless we do something in the remaining days of this Session, or in the first few days of the next Session, all the private Bills that do not get through this Session will be presented to us again.

If what the hon. Gentleman wants could happen, we would not be having this debate. That, however, is not the case. Should we then allow this debate to continue, or should we cut off the Bill now? The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) argued that we should not allow the debate to continue because it is a way of stopping the Bill completely. Let me make my position clear. Hon. Members know my position because we had an around-the-houses on it earlier in the year.

This is not the Bill that should be coming from the City. We should have before us a Bill that gives a proper representative structure to the City. The City has had plenty of time in which to draft such a Bill. The House is sending lots of messages--they are coded from some quarters and less coded from others--that the City must do better. My preference is that, in November, the City should come back with a Bill that would find favour in the House. Once the date for the promotion of private Bills has arrived, I should like to see a new Bill tabled by the City of London corporation.

I made it clear on Second Reading that I hoped that the City would go away and come back with a better Bill. Those of my colleagues who voted for this Bill's Second Reading, as I did, on the basis that the proposal, however flawed, was better than the present system, have had to argue strongly with other colleagues who say that, although the proposal is better, it is indefensible. Collectively, therefore, we have no great enthusiasm for the Bill.

Mr. Bermingham: Surely what the hon. Gentleman says proves the point that I seek to make. If we send an unequivocal message from the House tonight that this is a bad Bill, that we do not like it, and that the City of London corporation should come back with a new Bill that takes into account what the House has said, we will have set a precedent. That is all we seek to do.

Mr. Hughes: I understand that. If I were confident that the Government were not, effectively, whipping the Bill, and if my colleagues had been confident from the

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beginning that there would be a truly free vote, the hon. Gentleman's argument would have found much more favour and the Bill probably would not have proceeded. The Bill proceeded only because, as is evidenced from the Division records, a significant number of Government Members voted for it, not having attended the debate. I understand that--it happens all the time, but it need not and should not happen. Private Bills should not be whipped. The sooner private Bills are treated as truly private Bills, the better we can do our job as legislators.

Mr. Skinner: In 1976, the Eastbourne Harbour Bill was presented by Ian Gow, who later became the Parliamentary Private Secretary to Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister. He lost the Bill because we talked until about a quarter to nine and we allowed the Tories, who had all come out of the woodwork, to think that the vote would be at 10 o'clock. I shut up after about 70 minutes, and we called a Division. They did not have the 40 people necessary, so we beat them.

The hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) should remember that private Bills come back almost exactly the same. There is no question about that--


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