Committee on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill Special Report


SPECIAL REPORT


The Committee on the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill has agreed to the following Special Report:—

THE CITY OF LONDON (WARD ELECTIONS) BILL

1. The Committee has considered the Bill laid before it and has found that the measures it proposes are broadly justified in order to correct anomalies in the existing business franchise.

2. However the Committee has, over four days of public hearings, heard wide-ranging arguments which demonstrated that the electoral system within the City of London is flawed in a manner and to an extent which could not be addressed within the powers of the Bill presented. It has been suggested to the Committee that the Bill if enacted will be part of wider reforms. While the Committee could only consider the Bill on its own merits, and while the wider reforms discussed could not be a matter for its formal consideration or jurisdiction, the Committee has deemed it necessary to report the matter of these wider discussions to the House. The Committee has deliberated in private upon the Bill on two occasions.

3. The Bill was presented to the House by the Corporation of London and was opposed by two parties: firstly, by Members of the City of London Branch of the Cities of London and Westminster constituency Labour Party; and secondly by an individual, Mr Malcolm J Matson. Witnesses gave evidence to the Committee in support of the promoter's case, and Mr Matson's case.

4. The Committee considers it important to note that there was entire agreement between the parties upon the importance of the Corporation to the well-being of the City and upon the need for reform of the current electoral system. Beyond that, both petitioners raised in their petitions the problem of the uneven distribution of voters between the electoral wards; and their concern that the representation of ordinary resident voters on the Court of Common Council would be diminished by the increase in the business franchise which is proposed.

5. The parties were found to be in agreement upon the need to address the distribution of voters and the Committee heard expressed the intention of the Corporation to conduct a review of the ward boundaries. The Committee was told that by the revision of the internal boundaries of certain electoral wards—which was said to be within the Corporation's powers—the inequalities of distribution might be alleviated in part and the residential vote consolidated. While the matter lay beyond the Committee's powers of inquiry, the measure volunteered by the promoters was welcome in so far as, if enacted, it might provide the relief sought by the petitioners.

6. Having heard the cases of both the promoters and the petitioners presented at length the Committee is, however, of the view that neither the Bill nor the additional assurances already provided to the petitioners can entirely remedy the problems in the governance of the City. The Committee wishes to record its opinion that further reforms are needed, to reduce the total number of wards and to reduce further the number of ward representatives. In the case of the former, the Committee was told that the number of wards could only be reduced by Parliament; the latter was indicated to be within the powers of the Corporation. These measures appear to the Committee to be desirable if the democratic rights of resident voters are to be properly protected and the City governed in a fully accountable and transparent manner.

7. The Committee noted a degree of confusion between the parties over the question of the Corporation's authority to amend its boundaries, whether internal or external. This is a matter upon which the Corporation, in its own interests and as soon as possible, must wish to obtain an authoritative legal opinion which it might place upon the public record for the avoidance of further dispute. The Committee wishes further to observe that there would be a benefit of increased transparency if the Corporation were to seek the opinion and experience of the Boundary Commission for England in conducting any boundary review.

8. The Committee noted further areas of doubt concerning the qualification of candidates for the Court of Common Council. The freedom of the City is a prerequisite for any candidate wishing to stand, and the Committee was assured that in practice it is granted automatically to such applicants. Nonetheless, the Committee was told that a theoretical right of veto remains. It would appear desirable that both the requirement for candidates to be of the freemanry and for the retention of the right of veto should be re-examined.

9. The Committee believes that the implementation of such reforms will enhance the capacity of the Corporation to promote the City and hereby draws these matters to the attention of this House.


 
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Prepared 5 July 1999