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Mr. Peter Bradley: I want to find out how close the hon. Gentleman's views are to the Liberal Democrat proposition. He said that there is a massive influx of commuters into the City of London, which heavily outweighs the residential population of 5,000, and therefore it is not unreasonable that commuters should be considered in the corporation's affairs. Would he extend

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that proposition to the many other cities and boroughs, such as Westminster, the population of which is swelled by commuter traffic every day? Does he agree with the Liberal Democrat spokesman, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes)? That proposition would undermine the democratic principle not only in the unique setting of the City of London, but in every employment-generating borough in the country.

Mr. Waterson: I can assure the hon. Gentleman that on this issue, as on every other, any similarity between my views and those of the Liberal Democrats is entirely coincidental.

Mr. Bradley: Will the hon. Gentleman give way again?

Mr. Waterson: No, I shall not.

Mr. Bradley: Will he answer my question?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order.

Mr. Waterson: The special nature and distinctive quality of the City was recognised by Lord Callaghan as long ago as 1969, when the non-residential vote was abolished. The then Labour Government recognised that the City required a business vote because it is primarily a place for doing business. A figure almost as Olympian as Lord Callaghan, the Minister for London and Construction, who will respond to the debate, referred in December 1997 to

He made further flattering remarks about the role of the City of London.

The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) referred with horror to the Association of London Government's support for the measure. We have all received the same letter from the association, in which it says:

We agree with that. The provision sensibly extends the franchise in the City of London and it has our support.

9.13 pm

Mr. Bill Etherington (Sunderland, North): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak when I had to miss such a large part of the debate because I had other business with a Minister.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in the debate, but I am far from pleased that it is necessary. I start from the premise that as a democratically elected MP, it is my responsibility to try to ensure that the best democratic standards are upheld at all times. The Bill not only negates that principle, but would perniciously amend existing legislation.

Since the great Reform Act of 1832, there has been constant progress through universal suffrage and general improvements in voting procedures which has led to our position today. We can all be proud of that, except for the situation in one small part of Britain.

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I apologise to the many London Members present who may not be called to speak because I have had my few minutes. I apologise because I realise that they must feel as angry as I do about the fact that the Bill is before the House. What is worse, I am almost 300 miles away from the City. We are not speaking of the democratic deficit; we are speaking about a system that is fundamentally undemocratic and anti-democratic, and the Bill will make matters worse.

I have heard many good things said tonight. The hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Bell) struck a chord with me when he spoke about democracy. I am speaking about democracy and nothing else. I have no interest in speaking for or against the corporation or the City of London. They exist, they do a job, and I have no strong feelings one way or the other. However, I feel that they should have no part in the democratic process in the place in which they are situated.

I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Minister for London and Construction on the Front Bench. I should like my Government to introduce a Bill to bring the corporation and City of London into the same democratic procedures as we have everywhere else in this land. I invite my hon. Friend to do so.

It is not unusual for me to be mildly critical of my Government when I speak in the House. That is part of the democratic process. I would much rather the time of the House tonight had been spent dealing with a Bill such as the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill, or some other matter of real importance to the people of Britain.

I feel both angry and sad--sad that we have to debate the issue, and angry because of what it stands for. I do not imagine that many of my constituents are aware of the circumstances of the corporation and City of London and the totally undemocratic process by which they are governed. I shall try to make sure that they get to know a little more, as it is as important to them and to people in every other constituency as it is to the people of London, although I accept that it is more annoying to London Members. From what I have heard tonight, it is clear that they are much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am, but their feelings about democracy are no stronger.

Several hon. Members have said that there is nothing comparable in other democratic countries. I believe that that is correct. I have heard a special case being pleaded, and I am always wary when I hear about a special case, because it is usually a matter of vested interests and attempts to take people's minds off the main issue. The main issue in this case has nothing to do with the wealth-creating abilities or otherwise of the corporation or the City of London, and everything to do with democracy and what people in this country expect.

From what I have heard said by Opposition Members, it seems that if people work somewhere, they should be entitled to a vote there, because they should have a say in the place where they work. When I worked at the colliery, I did not expect to have a vote where the colliery was. I had one where I resided. That should be the cornerstone of all democracy. A vote should be based on where one resides. Are we saying that people who have a caravan should have a vote in the place where their caravan is sited? That is the analogy with the City of London.

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I hope that every Labour Member will vote against the Bill, because the democratic situation will be worsened if the Bill goes through. Others will use it as an example. People will say, "Why can we in the north-east not have two votes? Can I not have a vote where I have my little corner shop? Can I not have a vote where I work?" The cornerstone of democracy is one person, one vote, in one place. That is paramount.

I am employed in the constituency of the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), who introduced the Bill. I would not expect to have a vote in his constituency. I do not expect to have a vote in Sunderland, where I also have an office. I expect one vote, and one vote only. If I were offered more, I would turn down the offer, because that would be fundamentally wrong. That is what the Bill is about-- giving a certain number of people extra voting power. Once we go down the line of giving one person one vote and others more than one vote, we shall start seriously to undermine this country's democratic processes.

The right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster must be proud that he has this palace within his constituency. However, it is ironic that the mother of Parliaments--we should all be proud of the fact that this place stands for everything that is best as far as democracy is concerned--is within shouting distance of a place where attempts are being made by Opposition Members to negate the democratic process. That is the issue at stake.

I warn all hon. Members that if the Bill is passed, it will be the start of a slippery slope, because it will be noticed and others will want the same rights. It is not anti-business to say that it is wrong for business people to have more than one vote. I remember the problems caused in Northern Ireland by the property vote. Some hon. Members know more about that than I because they were here when it existed. I have talked to people who believe in property votes; they want an advantage.

There is no reason to apologise for saying that it is totally wrong for people to expect to have a voting influence because of where they work. There may be exceptions, for example someone who owns a public house and also lives in it, so it is their business and home.Voting rights should be based on residence and nothing else--one person, one vote, where the person resides. Those who seek to move away from that do everyone a great disservice.

I am surprised at the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster. He is almost a doyen to me in terms of democracy and courtesy. I cannot understand why such a thoroughly decent person would put his name to such a pernicious, insidious and invidious Bill. I say once again to my hon. Friend the Minister, let us see a little bit of democracy and some modernisation. Let us have the democratic powers of the corporation of London taken away from it, so that it gets on with what it does best--the business of creating and distributing money. It is not always distributed how I would like, but I recognise that that is what it does, and that is all it should do. Businesses have plenty of influence within local authorities and this House. That should not be added to by allowing them to have additional votes.

I have brought with me just three pieces of correspondence. The first is from the parliamentary agents of the Bill, a good organisation that I had a lot to do with on the Channel Tunnel Bill. It does that organisation no good

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to be introducing this Bill. The second correspondence is from the London Labour party, which all my hon. Friends should support. It deals with this problem day in, day out--it must be terrible to have to live with it.

The third piece of correspondence is from Malcolm J. Maxton, of London EC2Y, whom I thank for drawing this matter to my attention. Although I remember reading about it years ago, so I was vaguely aware of it, I must admit ignorance. I did not know how dreadful the democratic position was in that part of London and I am pleased that I have learnt about it. I hope that the Bill will be defeated tonight.

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