Jeremy Corbyn: The hon. Gentleman is raising an unbelievable non sequitur. There is City of London housing in my constituency and Hampstead heath is nearby, which is extremely well run by the City. That is not the issue; it is that during the whole of the last Parliament the Bill received insufficient support to get it through. He says that he will vote for the carry-over motion because he wants more democracy in the City of London. Clearly, the Bill does not enjoy much support in the House. Is he in favour of such a motion for any Government Bill that does not successfully complete its passage within a Session? If he is serious about democracy in the City of London, he will oppose this Bill completely and produce his own to restore real democracy on the basis of one person, one vote.
Mr. Davey: I am glad that Labour Members are now learning that democracy and one member, one vote are important. So often the Labour party has not adopted those principles when running its own organisation and I understand that it does not operate that rule for many aspects of its policy. I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends are so hostile to our wanting to improve the governance of the City. I think that rather odd.
I want to see the amendments because progress appears to have been made. I should have thought the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, rather than pooh- poohing and opposing the motion tonight, should be crowing. He may well have secured progress by blocking
Mr. Davey: I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman does not have faith in his ability to persuade other hon. Members of that fact during our debate. He is using tactics that go against the whole nature of this place. The point of this House, as I think that you will agree, Madam Deputy Speaker, is to enable us to debate the matter rather than simply to use blocking measures to prevent debate and to prevent Opposition Members from voting for some of the amendments that the hon. Gentleman proposed in the last Parliament.
Mr. Hopkins: A moment ago, the hon. Gentleman said that the City of London corporation was not always nefariousin other words, it is sometimes benign. That may or may not be the case, and I am happy to accept that it can be benign, but is he suggesting that whether an organisation is benign or nefarious justifies its being less democratic? Should I tell the electorate that I do not have to stand for election because I am benign? I believe in democracy, whatever the nature of the institution.
Mr. Davey: The hon. Gentleman needs to pay more attention when listening to speeches. I was making a point not about the nature of democracy, on which there is much shared ground on both sides of the House, but about the fact that there is a presumption in some hon. Members' remarks that the City corporation is uniquely nefarious, and I do not think that that holds water. If the House agrees to the motion, I hope to argue for greater democracy in the City corporation in later debates. I want the Bill, as considered by the previous Parliament, to be substantially amended. I want hon. Members to be able to argue about the nature of a business vote.
John McDonnell: Let me get something clear and on the record. Is the hon. Gentleman saying on behalf of his party that he will commit the Liberal Democrats to voting for an amendment that will support the right of workers to vote in City corporation elections?
Mr. Davey: I will talk to my colleagues, but the Liberal Democrats do not whip private businessthat procedure is shared across the House. My hon. Friends are responsible for the way in which they vote on private business, and I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would know that.
Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North): I want to express my appreciation to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me to speak in this debate. I had expected rather more hon. Members to be present, because this is an important issue. Hon. Members may well wonder why a person from the north-east is concerning himself with a matter that apparently relates only to the capital. The fact is that nothing could be further from the truth. The Bill concerns everyone throughout the United Kingdom because it is about the very democracy that we say we hold so dear.
The Liberal Democrat spokesman said that he had heard certain things before. He certainly will not have heard anything that I have said before because he was not present when I said it, and in any case, there will be some variation. These debates are like a bad dream that keeps turning up; we do not seem to make an awful lot of progress. I am trying to speak to the motion as narrowly as I can, but I have to try to explain why I oppose the carry-over motion. All that I want to say subsequently will be based on that, even if I seem to deviatein any case, I am sure that you will put me right if I stray too far, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I feel a certain bemusement. I have always held Peter Brookenow Lord Brookein high regard. He is a fine democrat and a man of great courtesy. It amazed me that a man of his background should bring forward such a fundamentally undemocraticindeed, anti-democraticBill. I shall extend the same courtesy to the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young). Again, I hold him in high regard as a democrat, although there are many of his opinions with which I do not agree.
My right hon. Friend the Minister did not give a very convincing performance when we debated the matter last time. I hope that he will do better today, but if he supports the Bill, as I am sure that he will, he is in the same position as the promoters, and it is difficult to speak convincingly when putting forward such a rotten proposal.
We have spent more than an hour talking about reform and improvement. To draw an analogy, some years ago we talked about reforming and improving the poll tax. We must recognise that some things are so fundamentally flawed and rotten that the only thing to do is to eliminate, not reform, them. That is what we want to do with the Bill.
This Chamber is held in high esteem throughout the world as the mother of democratic Parliaments. For people to argue about amending something that is so fundamentally wrong is offensive. I also find it offensive that we are wasting three hours of valuable parliamentary time talking about this rubbish when there are so many important things to discuss. My hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) mentioned the abolition of hunting with dogs. Most of my constituents would be much more interested in making progress on that.
I have to be critical of the Government, because they set the parliamentary timetable. I should like to see them show the same concern if, by some fluke, someone introduced a private Member's Bill that put the City of London in the same category as the rest of the United Kingdom, where every resident in a constituency has one vote and all votes are worth the same.
The Bill is about the property vote, which I thought had been eliminated when I was a child, which was quite a long time ago. I was amazed when I came down here to find just how the City of London corporation operated. I had seen all the bumf about how wonderful it was. I am not criticising the City or the corporation. Whether there is sleaze involved, I do not know. I am still not decided on that one. That is not the issuethe issue is that it is wrong that business and property should interfere with what we regard as the proper democratic process.
Under a property vote system, I would be worth four votes. I have a house in the City of Durham constituency, an office in the Sunderland, North constituency, an office in Westminster and another house in the Southwark, North and Bermondsey constituency. I do not think that I am worth four votes. I am worth one, the same as everyone else.
When we talk about carrying over, there seems to be an element of chicanery involved. My hon. Friends the Members for Hayes and Harlington and for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) are such skilled interventionistsI almost said obstructioniststhat I thought myself fortunate to be able to speak before 7 o'clock, and I do not want to push my luck too far. However, we are spending far too much time talking about intricate details. I raised the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington earlier in the debate. I have had one piece of correspondence from the corporation of London, and I thought that it was insulting. It tried to persuade me that the property vote would be moved away from the concept of the square yardage of the floor area of the building and the system made more democratic by basing it on the number of people working there instead.
I have heard no proposal that will enhance democracy. I hope that the Minister is listening carefully. He is certainly writing away assiduously. I feel ashamed that my party, a good democratic organisation, and my Government are giving such garbage a fair wind. I find that not only offensive and embarrassing but incomprehensible.