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7.45 pm

After the report went through the court of common council, there followed a period of extensive publicity and consultation. Mr. McLeod said that the proposals had received quite wide media coverage, but that the main thrust of the consultative effort was a publication called City View which, in a sense, was the corporation's own newspaper. Throughout those consultations, there was no reference to any debate on whether there should be a clause excluding Crown property. I certainly cannot find any reference to any discussion to a proposal to exclude the workers of Government Departments from participating in the discussions on the City corporation's government by allowing them to have a vote as part of being a qualifying body.

Mr. McLeod said that 65,000 copies were directly circulated to residents, non-residents, voters on the voting lists and businesses within the City. Again, none of those copies or any future documents contained any reference to such a clause setting out the exclusions. It appears that there was some reference made in the court of common council on reports laid before them.

Again, the clause was never referred to in any of our carry-over debates. There is an extensive list of the debates that have taken place throughout this process. I can find no reference in any of those discussions to this matter being raised. It was never included in any consultation document submitted to the Government. A list of documents and representations were presented to us at an earlier stage by the promoters; none of them includes a reference to the new clause.

The precedent has been set that amendments such as this are tabled without consultation or reference, or at the last minute with little chance to table an alternative amendment.

Mr. Dismore: The intervention earlier from my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) has some force; perhaps I can put the point to my hon. Friend again. Why does he think that the new clause has been tabled in this way, bearing in mind the long history that he has outlined?

John McDonnell: I want to outline the genesis of the new clause and to try to reach an understanding of why it has been tabled so late. I am perplexed. Reference was made in Committee to setting out the exclusion order that

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the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions was suggesting. That reference was made to a Committee in 1999. It is now 2002; we received the new clause five days, or two parliamentary days, before this debate.

The amendment was not referred to in the special report on the Bill that was presented to the House. If any members of the Committee concerned are present tonight, I would be happy to allow an intervention to allow them to confirm that it was; but it was not. That was reported on 21 April 1999 and presented as an agreed report on 15 June 1999.

Paragraph 1 of the report explained clearly that the Committee had considered the Bill and found that the measures that it proposed were broadly justified in order to correct anomalies in the existing business franchise. There was no reference to exclusion orders for Government Departments in the report. Clearly, the Committee did not consider that the purpose of the report would be to outline the issues as set out. However, it is interesting that, in one of the discussions in the Committee, there was reference to the new clause being inspired by the DETR, and that officials themselves had called for the amendment to be put before the House in some form.

Ms Abbott: I am reluctant to interrupt my hon. Friend's flow, but why would DETR officials have been responsible for the genesis of the new clause?

John McDonnell: I shall come on to that matter shortly, because it is covered in the report.

In the Committee, reference was made to the DETR having looked forward to tidying up the exclusion of Government Departments at some stage. I refer my hon. Friend to page 20 of the report of the Committee's consideration of the Bill. This became the issue of the Bank of England. It was argued that the Bank of England, as currently constituted, pays rates and would possibly have a vote. A member of the Committee asked whether the Bank of England paid rates, whether it would have votes and whether there would be a nomination. A witness to the Committee said:

It is, therefore, clear where the original exclusion order came from.

At no time during the debate on the Floor of the House was that matter referred to. We are now entering our fourth year of discussions on the Bill, and at no time during that period have we been told that that was the motivation behind the original clause 6. In fact, quite the reverse is the case. We were told nothing about the matter. The Committee may well have considered that it would be important to look at the Crown property issue, as it related to the Bank of England or to any other Government Department or agency located within the City of London corporation. I do not believe, however, that the Committee considered it important to extend the

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definition of the exclusion of Crown property by such a broad, sweeping amendment as new clause 1. The Committee's consideration of this part of the Bill is notable for its brevity. Its discussion about Crown property being excluded took up two paragraphs, and that was that.

Let me express my worries about the new clause in relation to the old clause. This could be described as the Eddie George exclusion clause, because it is deliberately designed to exclude the Bank of England and other Government bodies. It is an attempt to exclude the very body to which the Government have entrusted large sections of the management of our economy, and a large remit in terms of the pursuit of corruption, financial mismanagement and the lack of probity in financial institutions. This measure excludes Government agencies such as the Bank of England and the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions from having any role in the City of London corporation's governance.

Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I am very interested in what my hon. Friend has been saying in the last few minutes. I am unhappy about the voting proposal being based on the number of employees, although it is, perhaps, a tiny improvement on basing it on rateable value. I see a good argument for having Government employees and the employees of public bodies within the new arrangement as a leavening to ensure that the new body is much more broadly representative of the interests not just of the City of London but of the country as a whole. The City of London plays an important part in our economy, and it is right that there should be some Government involvement, and public employees would make a valuable contribution in that context.

John McDonnell: I must explain to my hon. Friend that I am still addressing new clause 1. There are another 30-odd amendments that I want to deal with in as much detail as I can because they are equally important. He is leaping ahead slightly in relation to my amendments (a) to (d) to new clause 1, which deal with some of the matters that he has raised.

Mr. Dismore: I can see why my hon. Friend suggests that my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) is leaping ahead on that matter, but I do not think that he is, because he is addressing the issue that goes to the heart of what the promoters amendments are about. Does this not reveal the internal contradictions of those amendments, in that they are trying to base a franchise on the number of workers—in which case, surely it is in the interest of every worker to be represented and not be disfranchised because of whom they work for—yet the workers do not get a vote at all because it is still the bosses who will get the vote?

John McDonnell: Exactly, but the point that I am trying to make is that this is not a naive new clause. It will divide public sector workers from private sector workers, and act as a figleaf so some bosses can say that they qualify for votes on the basis of their employees, but not if they are public sector employees. That is bizarre.

Ms Abbott: As my hon. Friend unrolls his remarkably succinct exposition of his objections to the new clause and amendments, I must intervene on the Eddie George

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exclusion clause. I am confounded and baffled by the institution of our highest paid public servant—a very great man—being excluded in this way. Will my hon. Friend speculate on whether this could be an underhand attack on that great man by the euro-fanatic institutions in the City, because of his recent wise pronouncement on our entry into the euro?

John McDonnell: I understand the closer working relationship that my hon. Friend has established with Eddie George over the years, and what she says is partly in line with my argument. This is not so much a conspiracy theory as a conspiracy proposition proven by fact. The new clause is not naive; it is a conspiracy. DETR officials have connived, either innocently or misguidedly, with the City corporation to exclude the Bank of England from having a role in the corporation.

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