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 wardswhich
was said to be within the Corporation's powersthe 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
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.