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28 Jan 2002 : Column 80

City of London (Ward Elections) Bill

As amended, considered.

7.10 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am aware that one of the original petitioners to the Bill has written to you, because the amendments tabled by the promoters would dramatically change the Bill. Mr. Matson has written to you asking that the Bill be referred back to Committee, as those amendments are significant. That would enable him and other petitioners to raise their petitions once more and examine the Bill in detail. I wondered whether you had replied to Mr. Matson, and whether you could share that reply with the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice that he intended to raise that point of order. My reply to Mr. Matson is being despatched today. Obviously, it is a matter of judgment whether the Bill would be changed by the amendments to the extent that the hon. Gentleman suggests. In practice, when the question of revival was considered, the Bill on which I had to adjudicate was precisely the same Bill as was brought before the House in the last Parliament. That was the only issue. Of course it is open to Members to table amendments, and it is a matter for Mr. Speaker's judgment as to whether such amendments fall within the scope of the Bill. That was the judgment made in this case. I have advised Mr. Matson that, if there is a matter against which he wishes to petition, he will have an opportunity to do so when the Bill goes to the other place.

John McDonnell: Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point also relates to a matter raised by Mr. Matson in his earlier petitions, and to a statement that has been consistently made to the House since the Committee's original determination to refer the Bill back to the House with its recommendations. The City of London corporation promised the Committee that a package of reforms would be implemented in tandem with this legislation. Not a single one of those reforms has been processed, yet time and again they are referred to in the promoters' statement.

Will you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, examine whether it is possible to encourage the City of London corporation to implement those reforms, because they will bear heavily on the consideration of the Bill in this House, just as they did with the Committee, as reported in its statement?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is certainly not a matter for the Chair. Debate on such matters would be outside the scope of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Exclusion of Crown Bodies

'A government department or other body exercising on behalf of the Crown functions conferred by or under any Act shall not be treated as a qualifying body within the meaning of this Act.'.— [Sir George Young.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

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Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this we shall take amendments (a) to (d) and (f) to promoters new clause 1, amendments Nos. 33 and 35, promoters amendments Nos. 1 to 4, amendment No. 47, promoters amendment No. 5 and amendments (b) to (d) thereto, amendment No. 52, promoters amendments Nos. 6 to 8, promoters amendment No. 149 and amendments (a), (b) and (d) to (l) thereto, amendments Nos. 60, 68, 69, 71, 74, 75, 77 to 79, 81 to 84, promoters amendments Nos. 10 and 11, promoters amendment No. 12 and amendment (a) thereto, amendments Nos. 90, 92, 95, promoters amendment No. 13, amendments Nos. 97 to 99, 101, 102, promoters amendments Nos. 15 to 17, promoters amendment No. 18 and amendment (a) thereto, promoters amendments Nos. 19 and 20, amendment No. 125, promoters amendment No. 21, amendment No. 126, promoters amendments Nos. 22 and 25, amendments Nos. 131, 133 and 143, and promoters amendments Nos. 26 to 30.

Sir George Young: With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to comment on the promoters amendments in the group that you have heroically read out. In the debate on the revival motion on 15 November last year, I referred to the promoters' intention to bring forward amendments to the Bill. I said that

The new clause and the promoters amendments that we are now considering implement that undertaking.

John McDonnell: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young: May I make a little progress? I want to get out of the station before I stop at the first red light. I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment.

To secure the changes needed to relate the right to appoint to work force numbers, it has been necessary to make a number of changes to the Bill. However, many are consequential, and I shall focus on the amendments that are central to the changes. I should then like to touch on some of the amendments that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has tabled.

John McDonnell: Could the right hon. Gentleman advise us why these amendments were not available to us during the debate on the carry-over? Why was there such a flurry last week? Amendments were tabled and withdrawn within two hours of the deadline, offering little opportunity for consideration by those who may wish to amend the amendments. The City of London corporation has had four years to produce the Bill.

Sir George Young: When I spoke in November, I said that amendments would be tabled to change the basis, and it should have come as no surprise to the hon. Gentleman that such amendments have indeed been tabled. He should welcome them, because the changes that have been made by the corporation take a giant stride towards the case that he has been making for many years. I hope that he will

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not be churlish about the changes to the Bill. He has that churlish look on his face, so I shall move straight on.

7.15 pm

John McDonnell: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is that parliamentary language?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I have heard much worse.

Sir George Young: The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is definitely not looking churlish at the moment, and I commend him for the good humour that he is now displaying.

New clause 1 would perform the same function as clause 6. It would exclude Crown bodies, such as Government Departments, from the Bill by providing that they should not be treated as qualifying bodies. No right to appoint would therefore arise. The change is needed because the existing clause relates the exclusion of the Crown to property that is recorded as such on the local non-domestic rating list. The use of the rating list was appropriate when the right to appoint was linked to rateable values. With the disappearance of that link, reference to the local non-domestic rating list is no longer apt. Amendment No. 19 is consequential, and removes clause 6.

Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): I assume that the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman's amendment is to ensure that a United Kingdom Government Department or Crown body could not participate in these new arrangements. What is the position of foreign Governments who may own property?

Sir George Young: I am not sure whether they have any property that qualifies. I think that there is an amendment about the European Union, and having made inquiries, I am not sure that it has a building that would qualify. We will make diligent inquiries to see whether foreign Governments own accommodation in the City.

John McDonnell: I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman, who is sponsoring the Bill, is not aware that this legislation, if carried, would enable foreign Governments who have property in the United Kingdom to exercise a vote through various bodies. They would own property and they would employ staff.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that comment.

Amendment No. 1 would remove the definitions of "hereditament" and "non-domestic rating list".

Mr. Dismore: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Sir George Young: I should like to make a little more progress.

With the change from rateable values to size of work forces as the parameter by which the extent of the right to appoint arises, those definitions are no longer needed.

Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 4 would change the way in which "occupation" is defined to take account of the removal of any reference to "hereditaments".

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The term "premises", which is a standard legislative term, is substituted, as "hereditament" is used in rating legislation but not more generally. Entitlements to appoint are no longer ascertained by reference to rateable values, so a rating term is inappropriate.

Amendment No. 5 would insert "workforce" as a principal definition in the Bill by relocating the definition currently set out in clause 4(2). That relocation is appropriate as a matter of drafting, given the adoption of the work force criterion to generate the right to appoint in place of rateable values.

Promoters amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8 make changes to clause 2(2) consequent on the removal of references to rateable values and hereditaments. The practical effect of the subsection is unaltered. Promoters amendment No. 149, originally tabled as No. 9, is central to the changes now being proposed. It would add a new section, 6(1)(c), to section 6 of the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1957, which deals with electoral qualifications, and provides for the entitlement of a qualifying body to appoint any individual to be decided on the basis of the size of the work force.

New subsection (1A) sets out the extent of the entitlement. For a work force of up to five, one person may be appointed. Each additional five members of the work force will generate an entitlement of one additional appointment, up to work forces of 50. In the case of work forces over 50, the entitlement is tapered. The work force must increase by a further 50 before an entitlement to make an additional appointment arises.

The taper was selected to avoid dominance by larger firms, and to achieve a total electorate that would not produce a larger component of business voters than the Bill does now. In fact the projected figure declines by about 1,500, giving a total City electorate of approximately 38,500.

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