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Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): In 1969, Lord Callaghan reformed the business vote in much of Britain except for that in the City of London. The right hon. Gentleman was a member of that Labour Cabinet. If he felt so strongly about the matter, why did he not resign?

Mr. Benn: The thought that someone should resign if he is a minority in the Cabinet is an interesting one. If that were the position, the Cabinet would lose half its membership every week. I have never accepted that approach. I do not recall the then Cabinet ever discussing the matter because not every little piece of legislation comes before Cabinet. I say without any discourtesy that not everything that Lord Callaghan did is automatically inscribed in the article of faith. The present Government would describe Lord Callaghan as old Labour to his fingertips. As a loyal supporter of the Government, do not ask me to endorse such old Labour corruption, as identified in the hon. Gentleman's intervention.

Of course, there has been the buying of votes in the past. Indeed, the practice was legal. If we go back far enough, we find that ordinary people did not have the vote. In 1832, only 2 per cent. of the population had the vote: they were all rich white men. It may seem that 1832 is a long time ago, but it was only 18 years before my grandfather was born. Democracy is quite new. Women got the vote at the same age as men only in my lifetime. That was 1928. Only a year or two before I was elected to this place, we got rid of the business vote and the university vote. We are now reintroducing the corporation vote. Although this goes beyond the terms of the debate, London should be brought under the new mayor, so when my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) takes responsibility for London he will be able to deal with the problems of the electoral system in the City as well as other matters. However, that is a wider issue that I must not go into.

Democracy should be central to the views of all hon. Members. It should not divide us politically, and it certainly should not incorporate the Government Front Bench along with the City of London, whose acquaintance with democracy is a narrow one. It is an offshore island moored in the Thames, with a freedom that many other offshore islands would be glad to have. I hope that the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster will address himself to my question: did he and the promoters seek advice? Secondly, does he think that under

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normal election law an elector would have a claim against a winning candidate, who would use the mechanisms that we are being invited to endorse?

Mr. Peter Brooke (Cities of London and Westminster): I welcome the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) back to the deliberations. We enjoyed his contribution on Second Reading. Some of the remarks in the admirable contribution that he has just made had the flavour of a re-run of some of his observations on Second Reading. I shall return later to the question that he asked me.

The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) tabled new clause 1. Shortly after he became a Member of Parliament, he asked me an oral question when I was still a member of the Cabinet. He prefaced his question with the sentiment that although I was a very nice chap, I was a rotten Minister. I think that the hon. Gentleman is a very nice chap and I am sorry that his capacity as a Minister has not yet been tested. The skill with which he remained in order for a speech that lasted approximately half an hour was testimony to his ability as a parliamentarian. I cannot divine the Patronage Secretary's view, but I thought that the hon. Gentleman was extremely skilful. I shall respond to his questions later.

The hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath) said that the City had little to do with Somerset. A friend went to live near Cambridge recently. After he had lived there for approximately 18 months, he met a military-looking man at a party who said, "I haven't seen you before; where are you from?" My friend replied, "We've been living here for 18 months, but before that we lived in Somerset for several centuries." "Ah, royalists, eh? You'll find we're mainly Cromwellians around here", responded the gentleman from Cambridge. The City of London was firmly on the parliamentary side in the civil war, therefore it is not surprising that the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome did not detect much connection between Somerset and the City.

Mr. David Heath: Some of my ancestors were executed in 1685 for taking up the parliamentary cause later than the rest of the country.

Mr. Brooke: I recall the events of 40 years later, but you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I pursued them.

The right hon. Member for Chesterfield will have been a Member of Parliament for 50 years later this year. Understandably after 50 years, his memory is playing him marginally false. My father was Home Secretary during the right hon. Gentleman's first 25 years in the House; I have not been Home Secretary during his second 25 years in the House. It is remarkable that I am the third longest sitting Member for the City of London in 717 years. It was represented by four Members of Parliament for most of that time. I have never been Home Secretary, therefore I cannot respond to the aspect of the right hon. Gentleman's speech that referred to that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Syms) responded to the heart of the speech of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield and the point about a challenge by a resident in the City. The corporation is anxious

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to preserve the ability of wards under the current arrangements--which were endorsed by the Government of which the right hon. Gentleman was a member in 1969--to elect residents. The Bill provides for that. What the right hon. Gentleman describes as a corrupt practice is simply the current position in terms of legislation that has prevailed between 1969 and now.

New clause 1 would provide that clause 3 should not take effect until the Secretary of State had made a statement that the Bill was compatible with convention rights, which are defined in amendment No. 22 as having the same meaning as in the Human Rights Act 1998. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) has raised the human rights convention on several previous occasions. Every time that has been done, the Chair has made the technical position clear. In drafting the Bill, the promoters followed that position. Nevertheless, I shall explain it.

8.15 pm

Section 19(1) of the Human Rights Act states:

the Act calls that a "statement of compatibility"--


    (b) make a statement to the effect that although he is unable to make a statement of compatibility the government nevertheless wishes the House to proceed with the Bill."

The section goes on to say that the statement should be in writing and published in a manner that the Minister who makes it considers appropriate. We are now familiar with the practice of including the ministerial statement on the front page of Government Bills.

The scope of the section 19 is clear. It applies to public Bills--I readily acknowledge that the hon. Member for Thurrock made that clear--but it does not apply to private Members' Bills, private Bills or secondary legislation. The hon. Gentleman is entitled to take the view that the requirement of section 19 should be extended. The point was recently debated in another place in relation to secondary legislation.

Mr. John Cryer: I have followed the right hon. Gentleman's argument carefully, but does he argue that the convention should not apply to private Bills? As my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) pointed out, when Bills become legislation, there is no difference between a private and a public Bill.

Mr. Brooke: I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, which he makes fairly. However, that is a general policy issue on which I am not expressing an opinion.

In response to the question of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, I shall state what the City of London Corporation has already done and determined in relation to the Bill and the convention within the current parameters of the law.

Mr. McDonnell: I want briefly to clarify one of the right hon. Gentleman's points. In one of the points of order that I made, I said that the Bill could be defined as

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having a Minister in charge of it. It would therefore be in the remit of section 19 of the 1998 Act, which states:

    "A Minister of the Crown in charge of a Bill . . . must".

Successive Ministers have so vehemently promoted the Bill that it could be construed that they were in charge of it. They should therefore make a statement.

Mr. Brooke: I am grateful for that intervention. I am not envious of those on the Treasury Bench, but under the conventions of the House, I am in charge of the Bill and, therefore, the hon. Member who has to make appropriate concessions or statements on behalf of the promoters.

The point that the hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) made is a general policy issue, not a matter for the promoters. I hope that Labour Members agree that it is inappropriate for a private Bill to extend the scope of section 19 of the 1998 Act. New clause 1 would have that effect.

The hon. Member for Thurrock raised a series of contingencies about the Attorney-General. Standing Orders on private business require the deposit of the Bill with the Attorney-General. The Bill was so deposited and the Attorney-General is not ignorant of it. He is entitled to submit a report--such reports are submitted at Committee stage--on any private Bill. The Attorney-General's office has submitted no report on the Bill. Having given the explanation about section 19, I make it clear that the promoters of the Bill and their lawyers have examined the human rights convention more than once. That examination has failed to reveal a contravention.

I appreciate that new clause 1 seeks an opinion from the Secretary of State, and I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House if I put on the record, as for a Government Bill, the opinion of the promoters that no contravention of the convention rights arises from the Bill's provisions. That answers the question of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield.

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