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8.45 pm

John McDonnell: My view is that the lawyers affected would be those who participate in challenges to the enactment of the Bill. They would be denied the human right of participation in the governance of their area on the basis of a spurious clause that tries to exclude them from engaging in a practice in which they pursue their living. I find that extraordinary.

I turn now to amendment (b), in my name. In case amendment (a) is too sweeping and would allow too great an extension to bodies linked to central Government, I have offered the House another amendment. It would limit and better define the impact of new clause 1, but maintain some flexibility. I request now, Madam Deputy Speaker, that when we come to vote, the amendments be voted on separately because they present alternatives to one another. However, I realise that if those votes are allowed, they will not take place until after we have discussed the next group of amendments.

Amendment (b) would insert the words "government appointed" into the new clause, so that it would read:

The aim is to limit the range of the new clause. I tabled the amendment in a spirit of compromise and clarity. It would enable the new clause to exclude Government Departments and bodies whose boards were directly Government-appointed. It is an attack on cronyism in line with the attacks on the Government by the Leader of the Opposition. I agree that there is an important part of the Bill that we need to consider, and I think that we will reject the concept of boards packed with Government- appointed cronies participating in the governance of the City corporation. It will be tempting to Members of all parties.

Mr. Dismore: I see what my hon. Friend is trying to do but I am not sure that his amendment would achieve that, since it does not say "directly appointed". My concern is that the new clause could exclude those who

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are vicariously appointed, and that would apply to NHS workers. There is no doubt that NHS boards are appointed by the Government and the boards appoint their staff, but those staff could be excluded.

John McDonnell: I offer the amendments as options on a sliding scale of impact and compromise, and I ask my hon. Friend to take amendment (b) in that spirit.

Ms Abbott: I have listened with care to my hon. Friend's succinct and carefully marshalled arguments, and the whole House is united in its admiration for the spirit of compromise in which he has tabled the amendments. Does he agree, however, that given the gaping holes already emerging in the Bill, it is not too late for the promoters to withdraw and redraft it?

John McDonnell: I hope that as a result of the debate, if my amendments are carried, we will have a better Bill, but it will not be a good Bill. It should be withdrawn, and legal advice should be sought about some of the comments made by Conservative Members, because they are now in dispute. I urge all Officers of the House to examine the Bill with regard to the point made by Mr. Matson, the petitioner. The Bill is complex and it is so different from the original draft that it should go back to Committee for examination.

Phil Sawford: I served on the Committee that considered the Bill over five or six days. We were informed from the outset that we could work only within the parameters of the Bill presented to us. The special report says that

The matters that we are discussing this evening—my hon. Friend's serious concerns—were never subject to scrutiny. This is a completely different Bill. My hon. Friend suggested earlier that it should begin its passage again because the very first amendment, new clause 1, deals with matters that were never considered in Committee.

John McDonnell: I agree wholeheartedly. Although clause 6 of the original Bill, which includes the exclusion of Crown property, was considered in Committee, we are not now excluding Crown property; we are excluding people. We are excluding Government Departments and their employees—individuals. If this were a Government Bill, individuals would be able to claim that it was a hybrid Bill; it would go through the procedure that is now prescribed for private Bills, as we have just determined, and the Government would be forced to announce changes at the earliest opportunity. The changes that we are discussing were never announced.

Mr. Alan Simpson: I am grateful for my hon. Friend's analysis, but does he accept the point made by our hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Phil Sawford)—that the excluded are not only those who are workers in parts of the institutions operating in the City, but those who currently have rights as residents in the City? They have locus standi to object, and they objected to the Bill when it was first presented. Unless they have the right to—

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order.

John McDonnell: That was indeed a long intervention.

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Let me be clear: there are now issues in relation to which the clause is the key to the whole Bill. The clause becomes essential to the future of the Bill, which is why I spent some time on it, but there are 30 amendments of equal import that we need to discuss tonight. The Bill is falling apart before us, which makes a reference back to Committee critical. That is no jest—the Bill needs proper examination. We are falling into the trap of making poor legislation.

The amendment tackles the issue of appointed boards. I accept that there is a problem of allowing Government- appointed boards to have a role in the City corporation; therefore the amendment is designed to ensure that those who, because of their direct Government patronage, owe allegiance to central Government are not allowed to participate in the governance of the City corporation, or exert an influence as a result of that patronage on the City corporation in its elections. Amendment (b) limits the exclusion order in new clause 1 by deliberately not encompassing those bodies that exercise Government or statutory functions, but are not directly appointed by the Government.

Would a state school fall within the remit of new clause 1? If my amendment were accepted, it would not, because the board of governors is not directly appointed by the Government. However, under new clause 1 alone, it would be, because it carries out a function under legislation. The new clause must be re-examined, and my amendments enable us to consider how to ensure that the Bill will work. I do not want schools or health bodies that can participate in the good governance of the City corporation to be excluded. They should be represented.

I am sure that within the City corporation are many arts or charitable bodies that undertake Government functions.

Mr. Hopkins: My hon. Friend knows that I am deeply unhappy about the undemocratic nature of the proposals. However, if the other bodies that he has just mentioned were included, it would bring a little pluralist competition and balance to the arrangements. From time to time, countervailing voices might be heard, instead of only the commercial voice of business.

John McDonnell: That is true. Ameliorating the effects of the clause would enable that variety of voices to be heard.

Many long-established charitable bodies now carry out Government functions: for example, the London Community Foundation now administers the children's fund, which was established by statute, throughout London. Unless my amendments, especially amendment (b), are accepted, such bodies, whose boards are not directly appointed and are therefore independent, but which carry out Government functions, would be excluded.

Mr. Dismore: Will my hon. Friend explore the argument about arts bodies? At the Barbican are all sorts of bodies that receive central Government funding: for example, the Royal Shakespeare Company receives substantial sums from the Government through various arts bodies. How does he envisage their being affected by either new clause 1 or his amendments, bearing in mind the direct and indirect relationships we have been discussing?

John McDonnell: My amendments give the option to ensure that such bodies—I do not believe that the

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Barbican is so caught because it is exercising a function under the City corporation and is funded in that way, so I do not think that it is exercising a Government function—address the general issue of providing more flexibility.

Amendment (d) has been alluded to by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, the promoter, and I believe that it provides the maximum flexibility. However, it is necessary to have confidence in government to endorse it.

Andrew Mackinlay: I left the Chamber recently to clarify the position of the Temple and the Inns of Court with the Library. I note that the Temple church and the master's house are held in common. Otherwise, each inn has its own hall. Can my hon. Friend throw any light on whether they are enfranchised under the proposed legislation? More importantly, does each set of chambers have a vote? To me, as a layman, we are talking in that context about a business, but probably that is not the correct status. Perhaps there is a legitimate interest, but what are the limits? If my hon. Friend cannot throw light on these questions, I hope that the issues will be flagged up by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field), when he has a go.

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