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Mr. Etherington: My hon. Friend has come to the nub of the problem: the nebulousness of what we are trying to discuss. Will he say more about how democracy will be improved by changing the property vote from one based on floor area to one based on the number of people employed in the building?
John McDonnell: I will not encourage your intervention, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by going into the principles of the Bill. However, with your discretion, I should like to deal with the proposal as it affects the carry-over; that is a matter of procedure, not principle.
If new parties are affected by an amendment to a Bill of this nature, they should be allowed a direct line of communication to the House to explain how they are affected. That will enable us to consider how the Bill, the amendment or, as it is becoming, the new Bill, will affect them and how we should protect their interests. I give the example of employees themselves. As the right hon. Member for NorthWest Hampshire said, the amendment would base the franchise on the number of employees in a company. I am sure that employees, whether individually or in groups, and the trade unions have questions about that. A year ago, the City corporation floated a range of ideas for amendments, but they were not based on a count of employees, as we suggested. Instead, they identified individual companies, assessed their rateable value and the number of employees employed in relation to that value, and used that to determine its vote. In other words, there was no amendment to ensure a count of employees or that the franchise would be based on the number of workers in the company; it would be based on rateable value.
If such an amendment is now being proposed againI do not know because no one has seen it apart from those promoting the Bill, who, suspiciously, are keeping it close to their chestit is pointless because it is a thinly veiled attempted to con the House that it is an improvement to the democratic system. It is not. The corporation would not be reformed. A proposal would be made that votes be sold to businesses just as before. It would be said that the proposal was based on numbers of employees, but that would not be the case. The proposal would be based on rateable value.
The proposal was bandied about 12 months ago, and we considered it farcical. That is why amendments were tabled in the spirit of the Bill. If there had been procedural problems and we had been unable to get them through the House in the previous Session, I would have supported the carry-over motion. The amendments were simple. The intention behind them was to base the franchise on the
I would welcome a comment from the Minister about what was or is wrong with such a proposal. Why did the Government not support it? If they had done so, this evening's debate would not have taken the same form. The motion would have been carried unanimously rather than having to have a debate that is revealing that the corporation is not budging an inch.
We need to reject the motion and go back to Committee. If there were a way to amend it, I would seek to do so. Even if I supported the carrying over of the present Bill, we should have a democratic right to return to Committee. I think that some of the Members who considered these matters in Committee are embarrassed that they have allowed a Bill to come before the House that is based upon the promises that were set out in the promoter's statement, none of which have been adhered to. I urge the Minister who is responsible for the Bill, although he refuses to accept that wordmy right hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Mr. Raynsford)to take the matter back. We have substantially a new Bill before us.
Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): As a Member who was involved in the opposed private Bill business, I can say that the Committee considered these issues thoroughly. We took evidence from many people, including representatives of the City of London Labour party, and I think that we came to sensible conclusions. We produced some amendments, which have been incorporated. The City corporation is acknowledging that because four years have passed, it can improve the Bill. If the revival motion is agreed to, we can fully debate the Bill.
John McDonnell: I think that the hon. Gentleman has missed my point. He did the best job that he could in Committee with the material that he had before him, but the problem with that material is that it did not contain the proposal that has been advanced tonight. If it had contained it, he could have examined the corporation in detail about implementation and then consulted other petitioners, and other petitioners would have come forward. Perhaps he could have persuaded the corporation to move away from the detail of the amendment that has been suggested, or the previous amendment, which does not include a count or a register of employees. Thereafter, he could have persuaded the corporation to introduce a worthwhile amendment. I am convinced of his forensic ability, and of his powers to persuade the corporation.
If we reject the motion, we shall be asking the corporation to pause, to think carefully about the amendments that it wants to table and to consult. I envisage consultation with the businesses that comprise the corporation electorate already, those that are seeking to acquire votes and influence within the corporation, residents, the mayor, the London boroughs and others.
I make the corporation an offer. The compromise of withdrawing the motion would give us the opportunity as individual Members to consult it about the nature of the supposedly significant amendment that has been brought forward. It would be an insult to the House if such a Bill, based upon a significant amendment, were forced through the House without that consultation.
Hon. Members may recall that, in previous debates on carry-over motions for this legislation and on the legislation itself, the City corporation made the strong point that there had been considerable consultation with all the bodies that I mentioned, including the Association of London Government and the boroughs themselves, and that there had been some consultation with residents and businesses. The position of London Mayor did not exist at that time. However, at no point in those consultations was a proposal presented to grant the franchise on the basis of employee numbers. Such a proposal was never made to the City's current electorate or presented for consultation with the London boroughs and other bodies. It therefore flies in the face of the City corporation's own statements to introduce a novel amendment on which there has been no consultation.
Jeremy Corbyn: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am sorry to rise for a third time on a point of order. However, as you have not received the amendments to which various hon. Members in the Chamber have referred, and therefore cannot rule on whether they would so substantially change the Bill that it would be within the Speaker's remit to order that a new Bill be introduced, would it not be appropriate to abandon this debate until the promoters have produced their amendments, so that the Speaker, Deputy Speakers and Clerks could advise the House on whether the amendments are in order?
Mr. Etherington: Does my hon. Friend think that, rather than considering a revised Bill, it would be better if the Government introduced a new Bill to bring the City of London into line with the rest of the country, where there are democratic elections based not on property but on one person, one vote? Would not that have been far preferable?
John McDonnell: Although I do not want to offend your sensibilities, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in managing the affairs of the House, I have to say that I fully agree with my hon. Friend. We would not be having this debate if this Labour Government had adhered to the Labour party policy that had existed for almost 70 years: to ensure that local government is democratic and based on universal
I am concerned about the time scale specified in the second and fourth paragraphs of the motion. I take it that the Clerks or the occupant of the Chair will advise us on whether they are standard in all opposed private business carry-over motions. As I said, I genuinely feel that the City corporation could do us all a service by publishing both the current Bill and a Bill that has been amended as they propose. That would give us an opportunity not only to consider the new proposals but almost to have pre-legislative scrutiny, such as we have had for other Bills.
The Bill should not be placed on the Table without an alternative Bill, or at least the amendments, being published. The justification for the amendments should also be published, and in a language that allbut especially hon. Members and the City corporation residential electoratecan understand. People should understand what would be done to them by these apparently hidden private amendments that we have not seen. There should now be a detailed procedure for consultation and discussion, so the time limits are now unrealistic. It is unrealistic to expect the Bill to be presented on the fifth day and placed on the Table on the next sitting day following its presentation.
I argue for a compromise. If the motion is passed, I suggest that the Bill should not be placed on the Table for at least a month after its presentation. That would allow thorough discussion. I welcome an informal discussion involving all interested parties, including all my hon. Friends who have expressed reservations about the Bill. We have met the City corporation on several occasions, but I shall not go into those discussions as I found some of them offensive. Perhaps that is something for the memoirs. We need to discuss informally the detail of the Bill before it comes back to the House. On that basis, I argue against the proposed time constraints.
It is pointless for us to agree to that paragraph of the motion this evening. In fact, we should agree a motion that says that a declaration signed by the agent shall be annexed to the Bill stating that amendments are being proposed by the City corporation and setting them out. At least that would give us the opportunity to have sight of them.
I shall now sum up quickly because I have to meet some constituents. The first paragraph of the motion is the key to the debate. I accept that it is difficult not to stray into the principles of the Bill and I shall accept any ruling that you might make, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It states:
I do not think that any party put forward these proposals in any manifesto at this year's general election. I am happy to give way to any hon. Member who can draw attention to an election manifesto that stated that we were about to sell votes in the City of London to any business that could buy a piece of land. I hear no takers and that is fair enough. In that case, the first paragraph of the motion is critical. The Bill did not receive Royal Assent in the last Parliament and this is a new Parliament. We have no mandate for the Bill and on that basis the motion should not stand as it has no reference to any manifesto. We were not elected on this mandate. The whole point of our constitution and the House considering motions of this sort is based upon the premise that we are elected on the basis of what we say to our electors, as honestly as we can.
They honestly vote for us, or do not, and we are returned on the basis of what we say as individuals and as parties. We did not tell the electorate that we intended to carry over the Bill. I have asked individual Members to search their election literature for any statement to any individual in their constituencies that made reference to the motion or its contents.
I would like to hear from the Liberal Democrats whether they won their seats on the basis of selling votes in the City of London or of supporting rotten boroughs. I would like to consult the electorate of Greenwich to ask whether the Minister included the motion in his personal manifesto. Was a leaflet produced in the general election campaign that said that we would sell votes to businesses, some of which have been accused of money laundering for Osama bin Laden?
We have no right even to consider the motion, let alone carry it tonight. It is an offence against democracy that it is even on our agenda. It was an offence against democracy last time, and we are now in the fourth year of consideration. At least last time some jiggery-pokery with the manifesto gave some justification for the Bill's consideration, but even that fig leaf of a defence is not being used this time.
Last time, the Bill did not reach Royal Assent. Why do we drag the Queen into the matter? Why should she be associated with that bunch of freeloading freemasons who launder money for the City of London corporation? No Royal Assent can be given to the Bill because it is an offence to all decent human beings, and I include the royal family among them.
The motion would make fundamental changes to our constitution and on that basis, I urge hon. Members to reject it. I urge hon. Members to read the words, because if we carry the motion tonight it will mean that
The consideration of the motion is taking up the time of the House. If the motion passes, it will take up the time of the House for the next three or four years. The right hon. Member for NorthWest Hampshire has secret amendments, but I also have amendments that might improve the Bill. I will go back to my earlier 150 amendments and I will amend and amend again. Unless we reach some agreement, not only is the motion not supportable, neither is the Bill.
I would like to debate many issues in the House. Private Members have Bills that they wish to introduce. For example, I want to ban hunting and I want to tackle homelessness. If the motion passes, it will take up time of the House that could be spent considering worthwhile Bills. Why should we consider this degrading legislation when we are in the middle of a war? We could consider homelessness, rising unemployment, the problems in the health service, local government finance issues, pensions or environmental issues. We discussed today the private Member's Bill on marine wildlife protection, and there are many others, but this Bill will crowd them out.
We should reject the motion. The Bill no longer covers the issues that it should cover and that we agreed as a party so long ago. The Labour party wanted to introduce democratic reform of the City of London corporation, and I would have been happy to consider a business district for the corporation. However, business districts all over the world are accountable to some democratic body. Instead of agreeing a carry-over motion, as we did two years ago, our suggestion was that the business district of the City of London corporation should be accountable to the Mayor for London, an institution that was then being introduced.
There was an opportunity then for us to reform the Bill and insert that democratic element, but the Bill's proposers have produced another statement that completely disregards the new democratic structures for the strategic governance of London. It contains no acknowledgement that time has moved on and that London's structures of governance have changed. That is why I believe that we should throw the Bill out.