Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Jeremy Corbyn: I am puzzled by my hon. Friend's reference to a statement from the promoters. Those of us who were here in the previous Parliament will know that

15 Nov 2001 : Column 1048

such a statement was produced then, but I am not aware that any new statement has been circulated to hon. Members today.

John McDonnell: A statement was lodged in the Vote Office. A number of hon. Members received a letter from the City corporation in relation to the motion. Those of us who did not receive the letter clearly are not on the corporation's Christmas card list this year. I deeply regret that we did not get the letter, but the statement is available from the Vote Office. I assure my hon. Friend that it is not worth reading, as it does not vary much from what we have heard before. It is an insinuation rather than a statement.

I suggest that we should consider a compromise. Instead of passing the motion, I suggest that we suspend consideration and that the promoters consider withdrawing it. We should then set up a commission to consider the real reform of the City of London corporation. That commission should adopt a consensual approach that involves all those who, in new Labour terms, would be called stakeholders. We should also establish a discussion involving MPs, and invite academics to undertake a further investigation of the available options.

In addition, the time scale should be limited. The motion sets out a period of five days, but I suggest that we set a time scale of six months, within which a consensual proposal for the democratic form of the City of London corporation could be agreed.

It might turn out that we could not reach consensus after six months, but we should try. It behoves the City of London corporation—given its resources and its ability to exert influence in connection with its relationship with No. 10, which was referred to earlier—at least to consider my proposal, instead of pushing the motion through tonight.

I close by saying that I have set out what I believe should be the objectives of the new institution that could arise out of those discussions.

Mr. Mark Francois (Rayleigh): The hon. Gentleman has been on the point of ending his speech about five times, so I shall be brief. He referred a few moments ago to people making progress, and I assure him that his kind words about the royal family will be much appreciated among Conservative Members. That shows that even he is making progress, to a limited degree.

John McDonnell: I am grateful for that intervention, although I must warn Her Majesty that she should not be associated with motions such as this.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. The debate on the motion is very narrow, and certainly does not include members of the royal family.

John McDonnell: I fully agree, Madam Deputy Speaker. If it were up to me, no motion on any Bill would refer to Royal Assent, as the country would be a republic. However, we should move on.

I am offering a compromise: a commission, lasting six months, to set out what the objectives of the City corporation should be. The motion promotes a Bill that is undemocratic in its form and nature, with amendments that we have not seen. The City corporation should meet

15 Nov 2001 : Column 1049

the objectives of the consultation paper from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which says that the Department wants a quality council to

That is what the City corporation should be doing.

Jeremy Corbyn: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, as I know that he is anxious to bring his remarks to a conclusion. I am grateful also that he has informed me of the promoters' statement, in which I note that the City makes it clear that it intends to bring forward a substantial amendment to alter the fundamentals of the Bill. He has read this and other documents closely. Does he think that that is in order? Should we be aiming for a completely new Bill, and not have a carry-over motion at all?

John McDonnell: As you were not in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, you may not be aware that we have covered this point extensively, so I shall be brief. Tonight we must consider the motion. How can we consider the motion on the basis of the existing Bill, when we are told that—most probably within hours, if not days—the Bill will be significantly amended? It is a farcical process that undermines democracy. Why become elected if the manifesto on which one is elected contains no mention of putting to the electorate the idea that such legislation will be proposed? When such a Bill is published and we try to debate it, we are told not to worry, because we can carry it over. However, it will be amended the next day in a way that makes it almost unrecognisable.

What is the point of this debate? Why does the right hon. Member for North–West Hampshire not do the honourable thing and withdraw the motion? Why does he not suggest tonight that we have the six-month breathing space, and establish a commission to try to abide by the objectives set out by the Government, and by my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government in his discussions on parish and town councils and other local authorities?

The key issue is to articulate the needs and wishes of the community. I can accept that the Bill is trying to articulate the needs of the whole community within the City corporation: the residents and the businesses. But this matter is not worth carrying over unless the Bill articulates the wishes of the workers themselves. The amendment—which has not been tabled, but alluded to—could be pulled out of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire's sleeve, photocopied and circulated. However, the amendment that was suggested privately 12 months ago—the same one to which he has alluded—does not give the right to the workers to have a vote in the City corporation. It simply uses them as the fodder upon which votes by businesses will then be cast.

15 Nov 2001 : Column 1050

The criticisms tonight are the same that the Conservative party used about the block vote years ago, and the same used about the constitution of the Soviet Union, which established votes on the basis of large Soviets of individual factories while the workers never had a vote themselves. That is why the motion should be rejected. We want to go back to the process of democratic discussion and debate to enable us to amend the Bill and reach a satisfactory conclusion. My view is that we are not entering into that process but into a hide-and-seek one.

Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend talks about a democratic mandate. Does he recall that, on 15 May of this year in the Hayes Labour club, I drew attention to his activities in opposing the Bill in the previous Parliament? As soon as I did, overwhelming cheers broke out around the hall. It would seem that he is the only Member with a democratic mandate to oppose the Bill.

John McDonnell: My hon. Friend makes a good point. If we accept the motion and carry over the measure, there is a real chance that some Members will want to promote such legislation elsewhere. Last year, during discussions on this Bill, I was approached by representatives of a Japanese business newspaper and informed that they had been considering the Bill, that it was interesting and that it could be used—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. May I remind the hon. Gentleman once more of the narrowness of this debate?

John McDonnell: Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was merely referring to my democratic mandate from my constituents as against the democratic mandate that is being undermined by the Bill.

I urge the sponsor of the Bill, even at this late stage, to pull back, to advise the House that the motion should not be voted on and to accept our compromise offer of six months co-operative collaborative work on an agreed, consensual approach to the reform of the City corporation—establishing a commission, involving all the stakeholders and allowing us to make a proper proposal. It is unacceptable to introduce a Bill in one Parliament, to try to have it carried over, to tell us that it will be substantially amended, but not to give us the amendments, and then to expect us to vote on it tonight.

I challenge hon. Members who want to vote on this pig in a poke to examine their conscience: how can they vote for something that they have not even seen? That makes a farce of democracy. We have reached Hogarthian structures of government. If the motion is not withdrawn, I urge hon. Members to oppose it.

The motion will be a test of the democratic conscience of individual Members. It will certainly be a test for my right hon. Friend the Minister for Local Government. I know him to be an honourable person who struggled for democracy in London over many years. He was one of the key people who re-established strategic democratic governance in our city through the London mayoralty.

The motion is also a test for the Liberal Democrats—to see how liberal and how democratic they are. If they vote for the motion, their credibility will be undermined. They will have sold the pass. They will be looking for the

15 Nov 2001 : Column 1051

crumbs under the table at the City corporation freemasons' lodge. I urge them and all hon. Members to vote against the motion if it is not withdrawn.

With those brief words, I shall sit down.

Next Section

IndexHome Page