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5.40 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young) has already alluded to the somewhat tortuous circumstances of this debate. I am most grateful for his support in this matter, which is hardly an everyday procedural occurrence even for a seasoned Member, let alone a new one such as me.

I echo the tribute paid by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) to my predecessor, Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, a Member of the House for 24 years who, as the Member for Cities of London and Westminster in the previous Parliament, so skilfully sponsored the Bill.

The scope of the debate is confined, although I note that this fact alone did not prevent the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington from speaking for over an hour. My right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire has dealt with a number of the issues, and I should like to take the opportunity to make some short points from a constituency standpoint that reinforce the case made so powerfully by my right hon. Friend.

Much has been said in earlier debates on the Bill about what are alleged to be its potentially damaging effects on the resident voice of the common council, and hon. Members have alluded to those this evening. In fact, the Bill will restore the resident-business balance on the common council to its 1900 position. In addition, the wards that are primarily residential in character will remain so under the new proposals. From the residents' viewpoint, however, perhaps the most crucial factor supporting the revival of the Bill is that it will ensure that the City of London is not reduced to a local government area in which the civic administration of the world's leading international financial centre rests on 5,500 voters who happen to live there.

Jeremy Corbyn: When the hon. Gentleman was seeking election to the House last summer, did he discuss with the resident population of the City of London the fact that their influence on local government will be diminished by the exaggeration of the business vote, and point out that in trying to influence the running of their services they will be completely outvoted by corporate interests? Did he compare the position with that in the neighbouring borough of Islington, which I have the honour to represent, where businesses have no vote? The only people who have a vote in Islington are those who are ordinarily resident in the borough, and I have never heard of anybody asking for a business vote to be introduced there.

Mr. Field: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman brought that up. As he well knows, a chunk of the residential

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population of the City of London, the Golden Lane estate, was transferred to the City from the borough of Islington in 1994. When I was canvassing in Golden Lane, it was evident to me that, almost universally, the residents, many of whom have lived there for many years and had therefore been under the auspices of the much-loved borough of Islington, are much happier being governed by the corporation. I did not go into great detail about the massive change to the franchise, although they are well aware that there will be changes to the voting arrangements if the Bill is passed. However, it was clear to me that in general the residential population of the City do not feel that they are to be disfranchised. Indeed, the opposite is true. They are glad of the opportunity to be residents of the City of London, rather than of the borough of Islington.

John McDonnell: I welcome the hon. Gentleman to the debate. I am sure that we will all grow to know him well during our deliberations on this matter. The key point is that his constituents were previously able to petition against the Bill as part of the process. Did he inform them that it would be changed by the amendment that the sponsor is suggesting? Was he aware of that amendment? If so, did he put it before the electorate to enable them to petition or at least to communicate with him on it? Has he seen the amendment? If so, can he let us have a copy? Can he let the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen have a copy now that they have formed a partnership? That would allow us to discuss it.

Mr. Field: I have not seen the amendment. The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that only a small proportion of the residential population of my constituency is in the City of London—about 5,500 out of 73,000. As such, the reform was not a major part of my election campaign in May and June. That said, when I met residents of the Barbican, Petticoat square and more generally, it was an issue, although I did not go into precise details. By the same token, I am sure the hon. Gentleman will understand that I was not at that juncture in a position to put to paper concerns or promises about events that might happen.

John McDonnell: When the hon. Gentleman is made aware of the amendment's contents, will he consult his constituents who live within the City corporation boundaries? Does he not think it appropriate to give them the right to petition the House on the basis of that amendment?

Mr. Field: In fairness, there has been much consultation in recent years. It is evident to me that the City corporation has done its best to consult residents and ensure that they are aware that change is under way. If the motion to revive is accepted, I undertake to write to all City of London residents to outline the nature of our debate. I will do that in tandem with other issues because the health service and other public services are also important to my constituents.

Jeremy Corbyn: That is excellent news. In the hon. Gentleman's letter to the residents of the City of London, will he enclose a copy of the excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John

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McDonnell) so that, instead of thinking that the Bill is tinkering around with administrative arrangements, they are fully apprised of the arguments for democracy? Will he tell them that the prize for defeating the Bill is to gain control of their local government? [Interruption.] I am sure that if my hon. Friend cannot visit all the residents personally, he will be happy to send them a video of his speech, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggests.

Mr. Field: I am sure that the sheer weight of the hour-long speech by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington will cause the Fees Office to blanch at the cost of sending it out.

The City is the world's leading financial centre. The idea that its civic administration should rest on the 5,500 voters who live there is not appropriate. Such an eventuality would be logically unsustainable and in due course bring forward calls for the abolition of the City corporation. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington might welcome that, but it would be contrary to the wishes of my constituents in the City of London.

On the electorate, one need look no further than the past two boundary commission inquiries. As London Members know, we are going through that rigmarole again. It is clear that the overwhelming majority of City of London residents are keen to remain in the City corporation, with its distinct powers and characteristics. Representatives of the City branch of the constituency Labour party made that point when they gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Bill. Hon. Members will want to take account of the view of City residents when they decide on their attitude to the motion.

As hon. Members would expect me to report, the case for reviving the Bill is supported by the financial sector of the City of London. The most recent survey was conducted in October 2000 and it consulted 150 senior City executives. It showed 91 per cent. support for the Government's decision not to abolish the City corporation and 88 per cent. support for the proposed extension of the franchise.

Dr. Vis: The hon. Gentleman said that he has discussed the proposals with residents. What consultation has taken place with the workers in the City? Can he give us any information on that?

Mr. Field: I must inform the hon. Gentleman that I have not been involved in that, not least because many of those workers are not my constituents. It would be wrong for me to make any representations to them, and I am not aware of the precise representations that the City corporation has made. I shall be interested to know whether his constituents made any representations in that regard.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I understand the temptation to range widely, but it would certainly be a comfort to the Chair if the motion could be mentioned a little more frequently.

Mr. Field: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington argues that we have had insufficient opportunity to scrutinise the Bill over the past four years. I am not convinced, however,

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that a new Committee would make a great deal of difference. We have already had plenty of consultation over the years with all imaginable relevant parties.

John McDonnell: The sponsor of the Bill is offering us either something that is completely ineffectual or a substantial vista of industrial democracy opening up in the City. That is a key issue on which we should consult. The hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) has accepted that he has not consulted any members of the work force in the City corporation who will be directly affected by the Bill. However, if the wonderful vista of a soviet in the City is to be established, surely they must be consulted.

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