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Mr. Deputy Speaker: The hon. Gentleman can use his ingenuity. I always try to be flexible when I am in the Chair. My point was about dwelling on such matters. I am sure that there is a way of saying that the Bill should not be carried over, but it is not for me to put words into the hon. Gentleman's mouth.

Mr. Brooke: There are several other topics to which I might have alluded, had you not so sagely and sagaciously

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intervened in my speech, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to make it clear to those who sat on the Special Select Committee which examined the Bill that some of my observations would have related to their report, and that I mean no discourtesy to them by not dwelling on those matters at this juncture.

I am mindful of your observations, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when I point out that the Bill has already been subject to extensive scrutiny in Select Committee and on consideration, and to a full debate on Second Reading. The City is atypical, which is reflected in the nature of the proposals. In judging the merits, as the House will have the opportunity to do--provided tonight's motion is agreed--it will be worth recalling that criticism can be made of most, if not all, electoral systems. That has been demonstrated during this Session.

Mr. Robert Jackson (Wantage): If the Bill is carried over and eventually becomes law, one of the provisions--in one of the amendments introduced by the Select Committee--would enable the House to continue to consider, during the years ahead, matters arising in the City of London that are connected to its franchise, so that we can monitor what happens and ensure that the reforms are effective.

Mr. Brooke: I am as grateful to my hon. Friend as I was to my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), and, indeed, to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My hon. Friend is correct--he was a most distinguished Chairman of the Special Select Committee. The measure would provide the future opportunity that he describes.

Other electoral systems are subject to criticism, as has been demonstrated in our debates, during this and the previous Session, on proportional representation and the party list system. We shall doubtless hold further debates--albeit in other contexts--on the merits or demerits of alternative mechanisms intended to secure democratic accountability, whether by election or appointment. I simply express the hope that, in taking forward to the new Session the debate on the Bill, the yardstick against which its proposals are judged takes adequate account of the imperfections of the landscape.

7.26 pm

Mr. McDonnell: I ask the leave of the House to introduce my speech by noting that, two weeks ago, I came to a debate after attending the funeral of my constituent, who was the driver of the crashed Great Western train and that, today, several of my colleagues and I have come from the funeral of PC Kalwant Sidhu, who, only a fortnight ago, died while serving our community. He showed a fine example of duty in the Metropolitan police service and in the Sikh community. I am sure that the whole House would want to send our condolences to his family today.

We have a heavy week ahead of us, with a schedule containing important measures and debates--possibly with some late night sittings--so tonight is not a time to delay the House. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear."] Hon. Members should not be too encouraged. We want to move swiftly to a vote: either to destroy the Bill tonight, as it deserves, so that it is not carried over; or, at least, to move to the next stage in a war of attrition against the backwoodsmen of the City corporation--perhaps we

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should just call it the lodge of lodges. It is not the last bastion of privilege and freemasonry in this country, but it might be the biggest.

Why should the Bill be allowed to proceed? Why should the House waste invaluable parliamentary time on this tawdry retrograde step? Why should we, as the mother of Parliaments--the fount of democracy, as we call ourselves--waste our time protecting privilege and rejecting the democratic principle through this Bill?

Mr. Robert Jackson: The hon. Gentleman might find part of the answer to those questions if he took the trouble to read the book written by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, his hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). The book is entitled "Cities for the Future" and has a preface by the Prime Minister. It contains much interesting material on the importance of London and the City of London and their contribution to the British and the world economy.

Mr. McDonnell: I am grateful for that intervention; it helps us to demystify the measure. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, there has been a conflation between the City and the City corporation. As we know, the City is an engine of our economy. There are some criticisms to be made of it, but we shall come to those when we debate the economy. However, the City corporation should not be confused with the City itself. The corporation is a group of hangers-on, who create what is known as the best dining club in the City. They bear no relationship to the creation of wealth by the City.

I too have received the book mentioned by the hon. Gentleman. He will have noticed that the constant theme throughout the book is democratic renewal and the right of residents to decide their future. That is what the Bill fails to do.

Mr. Jackson: The precise point of the Bill is to strengthen the connection between the City corporation and business interests in the City, so that the corporation has a more accurate voice on behalf of what goes on in the City.

Mr. McDonnell: The tragedy is that the Bill does not do that. It simply extends the right to buy votes. Instead of basing those votes on the workers who work in the City and create the wealth, strengthened by the resident voters in the City, the City corporation has rejected the extension of that right to the people who actually work to create the wealth so that they can have some influence on their workplace--the environment in which they work. We moved an amendment to that effect and discussed it at length--even ad nauseam. The City corporation has refused to budge, but perhaps we can return to that matter later.

Tonight we are debating whether the Bill deserves to be carried over to take up more parliamentary time. Surely there are many more just causes than the protection of a rotten borough on which the House can spend its time. In the current Session, we have been told that there has been insufficient time to ban fox hunting or to have a thorough debate on pensions, policing in London, poverty, age discrimination and other forms of discrimination. We

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have had inadequate time for those matters because we have spent several nights debating the Bill. In addition, a raft of private Member's Bills has been logjammed for lack of parliamentary time--yet we manage to fix some parliamentary time for the City corporation whenever it asks. Given the competing demands for parliamentary time, it is important that the Bill should not be carried over to take up time in the next Session--it should not see the light of day again.

If we are to spend time on reforming the City corporation, let a proper reform Bill be introduced--one that is based on the democratic principle of universal suffrage: one person, one vote, not one business, as many votes as it can purchase.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford): On the same principle, does the hon. Gentleman intend to vote against the Government's proposals on reforming the other House because that would not recognise the democratic principle either?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I spoke earlier about allowing some leeway, but the hon. Gentleman is pushing the boat out a bit too far.

Mr. McDonnell: There is a valid argument to be made about ensuring that we have either a democratically elected second Chamber or none at all, but I shall observe Mr. Deputy Speaker's instructions and move on to discuss the tests against which the House can judge whether the Bill should be carried over.

Mr. John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West): I delayed intervening because I wanted to hear the hon. Gentleman's arguments about the shortage of parliamentary time. I do not know whether he was in the House last night, but he should speak to the business managers, because by this time last night, having discussed the important question of whether Acts should be printed on vellum, the House had suspended. Perhaps the business managers could in future be rather more careful about the allocation of time.

Mr. McDonnell: I was in the House last night attending various meetings, but I followed the day's debate throughout. I shall meet the Government Whips and suggest that, in future, I be allowed to assist in planning the House's timetable. I shall keep the hon. Gentleman informed of progress.

The key question is what are the tests against which we can judge whether the Bill should be carried over. For many of us, the test is whether it is line with the Government's manifesto on which they were elected--will the Bill fulfil a manifesto pledge? The Labour Government are committed to implementing 177 manifesto commitments within the lifetime of this Parliament. I do not want to go over the sordid tale of how we arrived at the current position, whereby the Government support the Bill, save to say that the exercise of power and influence by the City of London corporation from 1992 has been an object lesson in the naked abuse of privilege. It is not often that we can pull back the veil and reveal the face of the British establishment in all its ugly, threatening grotesqueness, but the privilege exercised by the City corporation is an example of what power can do.

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Traditionally, the Labour party had a principled commitment to abhor votes based on money and privilege and to promote universal suffrage; hence, Labour was from its earliest days committed to the abolition of the City corporation as constituted, whereby votes are bought based on wealth and there are insider dealings in connections to get a seat on the common council--it is not what you know, but who you know and who can be bought. Labour's argument was that it should be replaced with a democratic institution. However, from 1992 onwards, the City corporation realised that the prospect of a Labour Government put privilege at risk, so every resource and sinew of connection and influence were mobilised by the corporation elite to bring Labour to heel. The corporation established a public relations team, set aside resources and started a long-term lobbying strategy. The tragedy is that new Labour was all too ready to become an adornment of the corporation. All it took was a few phone calls and a couple of dinner parties and, in the 1997 manifesto, the Labour party sought, not abolition or democratic reform, but only reform.

Does the Bill constitute reform and should it be carried over? Does it contain any element of democratic reform? It does not bring about universal suffrage based on one person, one vote, but maintains business votes based on ownership. It goes further--it is regressive, introducing a system whereby the buying of votes by more business is facilitated. Under the proposed system, the extension of votes is up for sale, depending on how much land in the City can be bought. The argument in July--

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