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Mr. Deputy Speaker: I do not believe that what has been said amounts to a good cause for discontinuing proceedings on this Bill this evening.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think I heard you say at one point that there were precedents for the way in which this procedure was being dealt with tonight. That is true because it was used several times in the course of the 18 years that the Tories were in power. What saddens me is that, previously, when private business was extended during the night, including the Eastbourne Harbour Bill and all the rest, it was not about property rights or democracy. There were also several imported coal harbour Bills, which we managed to hold up for several years. Although they were important and were debated through the night, the truth is that they were not of the same dimension as this Bill, which we have debated not just tonight but for three years since it was first introduced.

This Bill is about people's voting rights and about extending power to corporations. It is close to the hearts of those of us who have fought for democratic rights over the years. There should therefore be no comparison with those ports Bills—which we opposed throughout the night—as bad as they were, and with the Eastbourne Harbour Bill, which was a disgrace, and for which Mrs. Thatcher stayed up all night and kept the Tories here as well. I can go through the gamut of things that occurred

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at that time, but this Bill is about the rights of people to vote or not to vote, which is a disgrace. This Bill should have remained a private Bill and should not have had extended to it the powers of the Government. That is why this is an extremely sad day.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: The House will have heard what the hon. Gentleman says. We must now proceed.

Clause 2


Amendments made: Nos. 1 to 8.—[Sir George Young.]

Clause 3

Qualification of voters at ward elections

Amendment made: No. 149 and Nos. 10 to 12.— [Sir. George Young.]

Clause 4

Allocation of appointments

Amendments made: Nos. 13 and 15.—[Sir George Young.]

Clause 5

Requirements as to connection of persons appointed with the city

Amendments made: Nos. 16 and 17.—[Sir George Young.]

Clause 6

Exclusion of Crown property

Amendment made: No. 19.—[Sir George Young.]

Clause 8

Ward lists: qualifying bodies

Amendments made: Nos. 20 to 22.—[Sir George Young.]

Schedule 1

Rights to appoint voters

Amendment made: No. 25.—[Sir George Young.]

Schedule 3


Amendments made: Nos. 27, 29 and 30.—[Sir George Young.]
Order for Third Reading read.

7.44 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

It is often said that the House does not discharge its task of scrutinising legislation adequately. However, this Bill has been debated for more than 25 hours and over a period of three and a half years. In the course of those debates, it could be said that more or less every

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permutation and combination of circumstances that might disclose grounds for objection to the Bill have been articulated. I do not propose to detain the House by trawling through the issues, but I want to touch on one or two that have been raised from time to time.

The fact that the City wards that are primarily resident in nature will remain so has been stated many times. The point has been made, however, by Labour Members that the increased business element will alter the nature of the common council even though the residents' role in terms of their voting strength will be preserved. The proposals in the Bill have been promoted in the light of a falling entitlement of business to participate as businesses have been incorporated. The proposals are designed to restore the equilibrium, not to change it.

The promoters have made substantive changes to the Bill. The replacement of the entitlement to appoint on the basis of rateable values by one based on work force size is particularly noteworthy. Although the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) does not care to acknowledge it, the move is consistent with views that he has expressed. The City of London Labour party has been more straightforward in its response. In reacting to the change, its chairman, whom the hon. Gentleman chose not to quote, described the proposals in a press release as "radical".

One issue that preoccupied the promoters in developing the Bill was the possibility of an electoral qualification for City electors that could be conferred directly on people working in City businesses rather than having a nomination system. A commuter vote of 300,000 or more would, however, completely swamp the existing resident vote and would be unacceptable, not least to residents. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Field) may wish to say a word or two about the interests of residents.

Any selection of the type of commuter given the vote to bring down the electorate from 300,000 to preserve a reasonable relationship with the existing resident vote would be arbitrary and highly discriminatory. It certainly would not be representative of the composition of work forces, a specific requirement of the present Bill.

I wish to thank all those on both sides of the House who have supported the Bill during its three-and-a-half-year passage through the House. I hope that the end of that process is in sight. I will not detain the House further. I commend the Bill to the House.

7.47 pm

Mr. Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster): Like my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), I shall not detain the House for long. However, it is only fair that I say a few words.

As promised last November when the Bill was discussed in the House, I have carried out an extensive survey of City of London residents and asked for the views of most of them about issues relating to law and order and to drugs. It is interesting that more than two thirds of the respondents were entirely silent on City of London corporation affairs. Their priorities were obviously elsewhere, and I am sorry that it has been such a tortuous effort over the past four years to get the Bill

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through. Many respondents wrote positively about the corporation and it is only right that I should point that out. Some residents, of course, had concerns about what they perceived to be the anti-democratic elements of the election process, but they were only a small minority.

I want to take this opportunity to remind the House and, particularly, the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who unfortunately is not in his seat, that in the four main wards, councillors are elected by a resident majority. If the residents in the wards around the Barbican and Golden lane considered themselves under threat from the reforms that have been proposed, their concerns would have been felt by the sitting members of the common council who represent those residential wards.

We might also reflect on the fact that four of the 27 sitting members in the corporation of the City of London and representing those residential wards are, in fact, non-resident business people themselves. Eight residents represent business wards. That hardly discloses the concerns between the interests of residential and business voters on the common council that have been emphasised in the criticisms that have been made in the past. The relentless pursuit of objections to the Bill does not reflect a groundswell of opinion of the City residents whom I represent in this place.

Those objections certainly do not represent the views of business. Those who have criticised the Bill tonight and over the past four years have objected to the continued existence of the City as a separate administrative area. In that connection, it is worth repeating the comments that the chairman of the City of London Labour party made on the record before the Select Committee in 1999. He said:

For the benefit of hon. Members, I should also like to say something about progress on the other reforms that the City is pursuing alongside those anticipated by the Bill. Mindful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, of your earlier comments to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, I will seek to remain in order by being extremely brief.

The promoter has undertaken considerable work in the review of its ward boundaries. A review panel was established, comprising the recorder and the common serjeant—the two most senior judges at the Old Bailey—and the City's town clerk following advice from the local government boundary commission. Following public notices and a public consultation exercise, the review of the internal boundaries of the first two wards—Aldersgate and Cripplegate—is now almost complete.

A summary of the final recommendations was published as recently as March this year and sent to all voters, resident and non-resident, who would be affected by the changes. A more detailed report was also sent to all members of the common council and all those who had made representations to the town clerk at previous stages of the review. The final recommendations are currently out to consultation, and it is anticipated that they and any further representations will be submitted to the court of common council before the summer.

In addition, a City residents' liaison unit has been established as part of the package to reinforce the existing liaison arrangements between corporation departments

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and the City's residents. Other measures coupled with that include the introduction of regular consultation meetings, attended by the town clerk and other senior members and officers, and guaranteed resident representation on the corporation's non-ward committees. For example, four seats on the policy and resources committee are now reserved for such resident members.

A further undertaking given by the promoter was that the number of members of the City corporation would be reduced to 100 by the time the new arrangements came into operation. I can report that the number of members has been already been reduced by 18 to 112, and that process continues.

As a result, the Bill represents the right way forward for the City of London and the resident population is entirely happy. It seems ironic that some of the great largesse of the City corporation often goes to the areas such as Hampstead heath, Highgate woods and Queen's park. Enormous sums are spent on those most wonderful open spaces in central London, and the City corporation puts an enormous amount of time and money into its London gateway with the east of London representation. I do not wish to detain the House any further, other than to say that I hope that hon. Members will join me in voting for the Bill on Third Reading.

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