Previous SectionIndexHome Page


Sir George Young: That is a great relief to me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Finally, I wish to say a few words about the amendments that the promoters will propose if the House agrees to revive the Bill, as that may assist the House in reaching a view on the merits of the motion. One of the principal objections advanced by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and others has been to the extension of a property-based vote through rateable values. The reason that that route was taken by the promoters is a matter of record and has been debated extensively. The promoters have sought to deal with that objection, given the constraint that any form of general commuter vote would swamp the existing residential vote and would therefore be unacceptable to City residents.

The promoters now believe that an alternative to rateable values could, however, be introduced as the basis for the voting entitlement that would be conferred by the Bill. So, if the House agrees to the revival motion, amendments will be introduced to remove the proposed voting entitlement based on the rateable value of premises and replace it with a scheme that relates voting entitlement to the number of people who work on the premises. If the House agrees to the motion, as I hope that it will, hon. Members will have a full opportunity to examine the proposals and take a view on them.

The failure of the House to agree that the Bill should be revived would derail the reform movement in the City of London as the Bill would be lost in its entirety. Neither the City of London, nor Labour Members—indeed, no one—agrees that the status quo is satisfactory, but that would remain unchanged if the Bill were not revived. I hope that the House will agree, by supporting the motion, that the status quo should not remain unchanged.

15 Nov 2001 : Column 1035

4.12 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): I welcome all hon. Members present—especially yourself, Mr. Deputy Speaker—to our fourth year of discussing the Bill. This is not an evening for long discussion, and I hope that we shall all soon be able to head off to our respective constituencies to meet our constituents.

We are considering a tainted piece of detritus, which has been introduced by the City of London corporation and promoted by the usual group of freeloading freemasons. We need to consider the motion with the conciseness of the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir G. Young), who is now sponsoring the Bill—the second Member to do so during the fourth year of our considering it. We will miss the eloquence of Peter Brooke, who has now gone to the other place.

Jeremy Corbyn: My hon. Friend will have heard the Bill's sponsor say that a substantive amendment will be introduced, changing the basis of the Bill. Does he agree therefore that the Bill will take a rather different form and that we should consider a new Bill, not the old one?

John McDonnell: I shall shortly deal with that point because it is fundamental to the consideration of the motion. There have been proposals, which may constitute a new Bill if taken at their face value. However, anything that the City of London corporation has told the House cannot be taken at face value.

I preface my remarks with a note of caution to those on the Government Front Bench. I am not superstitious, except about two things. First, I never sit in the stand when Hayes football club plays, because they always lose when I do so. I usually stand near the corner flag; they still lose, but I do not get the blame. Secondly, I am superstitious about the Bill. Ministers have been brought forward, by No. 10, to defend the Bill. It should be made clear that the motion is supported by the Government; it is not some naive motion produced by the promoters themselves. The Bill would not even appear on our agenda today without the Government's support, as has been made clear in debate after debate. However, having looked at the sequence of Ministers who have made various arguments to carry over and promote the Bill at different stages, I have to express a note of caution. For instance, within months of his support for the Bill, the mayoral ambitions of my right hon. Friend the Minister for local Government came, tragically, to nothing—a result, I believe, of his association with the Bill.

I think that the Bill is cursed. Let us consider the Ministers who have laid down various procedural motions to carry it forward. I have mentioned my right hon. Friend, who is condemned to labour in the Siberia of standard spending assessments for the rest of his ministerial career. We have been through four Ministers and three Whips.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not carry on in this vein and will soon get to the reasons why the Bill should or should not be revived.

John McDonnell: One of the main reasons for not reviving the Bill is that it is a dangerous Bill with which

15 Nov 2001 : Column 1036

to be associated. That has been demonstrated on numerous occasions by Ministers who have promoted it. My hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Keith Hill) was the next Minister who came forward to promote the Bill, and he is now Deputy Chief Whip in the Whips Office. He lost a ministerial position, where he could have made policy, and is now part of a partnership with my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy).

The Minister for Local Government (Mr. Nick Raynsford): My hon. Friend presents the facts in a slightly curious way. An objective appraisal of the careers of the two Ministers who have spoken for the Government on the Bill is that both have subsequently been promoted.

John McDonnell: I do not believe that removal from a ministerial job to the Whips Office in such a way would be considered promotion. Indeed, the Whip who was associated with the Bill is no longer in the Whips Office. Any Minister who comes forward is dragged here as a result of the demands of No. 10. However, I do not want to go into the careers of the Deputy Prime Minister and other Ministers who have been moved from the former Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to the Home Office.

Let us consider the motion paragraph by paragraph. I hope that we can bring it to the vote fairly quickly and reject it and that we will be able to convince right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House that the Bill should not be revived on the basis of the motion's proposals, which I shall take in reverse order.

The last proposal in the motion is that no further fees shall be charged at any stage as a result of the carry-over. That is outrageous. Fee charging for private Bills performs two functions. First, it is an income to the Exchequer—admittedly, it is only a few hundred pounds, but it is not insignificant. Secondly, it covers some of the costs of presenting and publishing the Bill and the administration—the Bill's handling charge, as it were. The maximum amount, which is adhered to for all such private Bills, is a fairly minimal sum.

The City of London's budget is billions of pounds. I do not even want to enter into discussions about the City cash, which is part of its budget, whose accounts are neither audited nor published. That is another matter for another debate. However, we know from its published budget that the City of London corporation is a wealthy local authority. In my view, for the motion to argue that the fee should not be paid as a result of the carry-over is a disgrace. Might I suggest that the City of London corporation reconsiders its refusal to pay this paltry sum? It might even indicate to the Bill's promoters that the sum will either be paid or donated to a charity, such as Harlington hospice in my constituency. That is a good cause, related to the interests of London.

It is time to reconsider such motions, because it is a disgrace to charge a corporate body of this size a standard fee, and then to waive it when the Bill is carried over. We should be arguing now for a sliding scale of fees, dependent on the size of the corporate body and on how much it is able to pay. For the Corporation of London, it should be a case of "can pay, will pay". The fee should not be waived; it should not only cover the administrative costs of the Bill's passage through Parliament but make a substantial contribution to an associated cause.

15 Nov 2001 : Column 1037

If we had a sliding scale of fees, instead of this proposal to waive the fee altogether, the amount could be based on a percentage of the corporation's overall budget. For example, even if the percentage were very small, it would produce £2 million or £3 million for regeneration initiatives on the fringe of the City. I will not even suggest that the money should be invested in Hayes, Hornchurch, or Islington, North or in the north-east of the country. Fees could be related to the amount that the corporation can pay and donated to an associated cause. Even a donation to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy might help and, in this case, it would be a relevant cause.

If for no other reason, the motion to revive the Bill is not acceptable because of the refusal to cover what will be a cost to this House. Donations by the corporation would assist in smoothing the Bill's path. If that sounds like the corporation's usual practice of buying influence, I suggest that a better comparison is with planning agreements under section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, in which donations are made to local authorities in return for planning application approvals, and those donations are passed on to appropriate or associated local initiatives. I suggest that the House should not agree to the motion because of the proposal to waive the fee.

I am going through the proposals in the motion in reverse order, so I turn now to the fifth paragraph, which says:


This is a new Parliament, and many new Members were elected at the last general election. They may well have wanted to serve on the Committee that scrutinised the petitions for and against the Bill, but they will not now be given the chance because, if the motion is passed, we will go straight on to consideration of the Bill by the whole House. No further petitions will be allowed. New Members will not be entitled to scrutinise in Committee even the old petitions, let alone new petitions.

Some considerable time has passed. The Bill is now in the fourth year of its passage. Since it was published, new information has come to light that hon. Members particularly newly elected ones, would want to have considered in Committee. There is also new information on the basis of which individuals in the community may have wanted to petition against the Bill. According to the motion, they will have no opportunity to do so because we will go straight on to consideration of the Bill by the whole House. We will lose the opportunity to make any more petitions based on new information.

Since the Bill was considered by a Committee, new information has come to light on which hon. Members may well have wanted to base their decision on whether to allow the Bill to proceed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Jeremy Corbyn) pointed out, the promoters now propose significantly to alter the substance of the Bill. That proposal, as the right hon. Member for North–West Hampshire said, is to base the extension of the franchise to the business vote not on rateable values but on a count of employees.

I will deal with the detail of those arguments later. If we take them at face value and the change is substantial and significant, the Bill is in effect new, although I would

15 Nov 2001 : Column 1038

argue that it may well not be. We do not want to mislead the House that the change is as significant as some commentators suggest.

The Bill cannot be deemed to have proceeded appropriately through its previous stages in its former guise if the substantial amendments are presented at a later date. We should return to the stage at which new petitions can be submitted based on the new amendments if they are significant and substantial. A new Committee would be able to examine the detail in the light of new information, new amendments and any new petitions.

Let me give a brief example of information that has come to light since the Bill was published and that dramatically affects our considerations. The Bill would extend votes to a vast range of businesses located in the City. There are no proposals at this stage to exclude businesses on the basis of their performance within the City and the global financial system. I believe that consideration of petitions and proposals would have been influenced by recent revelations that some City companies that will gain votes if the Bill makes further progress have allegedly been money laundering.

The debate in the French Parliament was clear. The report before it identified British companies that were considered to be elements of an international money laundering system. If that information had been before the Committee or even the general public when the Bill was published, petitions would have been made to consider amending the Bill to exclude those companies from gaining a role in the governance of the City on the basis of money laundering. We could have examined procedures in Committee or the House at that early stage, based on petitions from individuals or others, to suspend the companies under investigation and prevent people from holding office who are from a company that is proven to be involved in money laundering. Had that information been available, petitioners would have had the opportunity to obtain approval from the Committee that scrutinised the Bill to introduce procedural changes to prevent money launderers from participating in the affairs of the City of London.

It is important to realise, however, that the Bill does not simply affect the governance of the City corporation. If we agree to the motion, the carry-over will enable the City corporation to extend its franchise to businesses, some of which are being investigated for money laundering, which will then have a role in the governance of the city as a whole because the City counts as an individual borough in the consultative arrangements for the Mayor of London and by the Government office of London.


Next Section

IndexHome Page