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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, first and second-class mail refers to the targets for next-day or longer delivery with the corresponding price. That is a quite separate issue from whether there is a second delivery in any one yearI should say "day". First-class and second-class mail can be delivered by the first or the second delivery. I appreciate the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, about small businesses that receive on average more than 20 items a day. I found the word "regularly" a little confusing"on average" is clearer. I appreciate that to go down a long lane twice, once to a small business and once to the house next door that receives fewer than 20 items a day, would be madness. Such matters can be sorted out in the pilot projects that are being undertaken.
Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: My Lords, I am delighted that Consignia is no longer to be called "Consignia", but "Royal Mail". Can the Minister tell me whether I am justified in hoping that our postage stamps will continue to bear the Queen's head for many a year to come?
Turning to pricing, the Post Office has two very strong competitors in the area of letters: e-mails and faxes. That will need to be borne in mind when raising the cost of sending letters. It also has a huge delivery of what I believe the Minister calls "bulk mail" and most of us call "junk mail" and which most of us do not want. Is there a chance that losses could be recouped on the delivery of letters by charging a little more for junk mail?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I can give the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, the categoric assurance that we will not be taking the Queen's head off the stamps at any time in the foreseeable future. I appreciate her point about competition from e-mails and faxes. Some people are surprised that mail
Lord Hooson: My Lords, does the Minister agree, as has been hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, that this sad news raises a broader issue for the Government? This week Mr Mandelson proclaimed that we are all Thacherites now. On these Benches we do not happen to be so. Does the Minister agree that that news, following recent bad news about our railways, raises a much broader point about whether there should be public ownership in certain spheres in order to deliver a good, universal public service? Does he agree that the Government should reconsider their proclaimed Thatcherite position and consider the need to revive public ownership of the service?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, is not the only one who is not a Thatcherite. I am not a Thatcherite and I do not believe that any noble Lords on these Benches are Thatcherites. Mr Mandelson is not a member of the Government and can speak to himselffor himself. Once you start on malapropisms, you cannot stop! He was talking in a different context. The answer to the noble Lord is that the Royal Mail is publicly owned and it will continue to be publicly owned.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I have three questions. First, will the £1.8 billion in gilts be available to the Post Office for all time to use as it wishes, without the Treasury having a lien on it? Secondly, how can we sustain a first-class service and a second-class service for the same amount of payment?
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, no other noble Lord will be able to ask a question now so I may as well stay on my feet! I could ask my questions much faster if I was not interrupted. The cost of a stamp will be exactly the same for private and for commercial customers, but one set of customers will be treated differently from another. In other words, one set will be treated worse than the other. I just wonder whether, if there is a challenge in the courts, that will be sustainable.
My final question relates to the Post Office network. In his statement, Mr Leighton referred to the fact that Brussels was holding up the application for a package of £210 million to assist the retention and the development of urban post offices. Can the Minister or the Government do anything to speed up such a decision, which I hope will be in the affirmative?
Those of your Lordships who watched the Queen's procession to St Paul's will have seen that historic moment when she had to stop at Temple Bar for the ancient ceremony as she entered the City of London. As we consider this Bill to reform the City's electoral system, we would do well to keep that historical perspective in mind.
While, happily, it is no longer the policy of any party to abolish the City Corporation, it is widely recognised that the City's franchise has become outdated and in need of reform. If the proposals in the Bill are enacted, and if the other reforms outside its scope are implementedabout which I will comment in a momentthey will provide an electoral system that much better reflects the realities of the City's pre-eminent position as one of the world's leading financial centres.
The Bill comes to us after a long debate in another place. No one knows that better than my noble friend Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville, who, as the then right honourable Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, with great skill and much good humourfor which he has already made a reputation in this Housedebated the 182 amendments and the 16 new clauses tabled in another place. After he joined us here, that task fell to be completed by my right honourable friend Sir George Young.
We have been accustomed in this House to receive Bills from another place that have had scant, or in some parts, no debate at all. That cannot be said about this Bill. It was deposited as long ago as November 1998, and after nearly 27 hours of debate in the Chamber at the other end and six days in Committee, it finally received its Third Reading in April this year. The Bill's passage in another place took about three and a half years!
The present electoral system in the City gives the vote to around 5,700 residents and some 16,000 professional people such as barristers, sole proprietors and traders, and individual partners in professional and trading firms. As everyone knows, the vast majority of the people who work in the City are directors or employees of the thousands of companies based there. The preponderance of the revenues raised by the Corporation comes from the non-domestic rate levied on those companies. Yet only residents, professionals, sole traders and partners may vote in elections to the Common Council.
The main thrust of the Bill is therefore to enable the broadest range of interests represented in the City to participate in the electoral process. That is not to suggest that the City has been remiss in its duties. On the contrary, the Common Councilthe body that discharges the local authority functions in the Cityis widely credited for its innovative activities, its support for regeneration, particularly in its neighbouring boroughs in east London, and for many other activities. I believe the House would wish to acknowledge the important role of the two people widely credited with introducing and carrying forward those policies: Michael Cassidy, the previous chairman of policy and resources, and Judith Mayhew, the present chairman.
The City is regularly praised for the way in which it runs Epping Forest, part of which lies in my former constituency, and Hampstead Heath. I take some personal pride in the fact that it was when I was Secretary of State for the Environment that we decided that Hampstead Heath should be managed by the City Corporation.
I shall not weary the House with the details of all the reports and inquiries that have led to the present situation and to the decisions that have been made, except to remind the House of the words of the present Government in their 1997 Green Paper, New Leadership for London:
Clauses 1 and 2 give the Long Title and define the terms used. The new franchise is conferred on "qualifying bodies", which are defined by Clause 2 as including both incorporated and unincorporated bodies, apart from the partnerships already in the franchise. A broad definition has deliberately been taken to embrace the widest range of interests represented in the City community. Thus it includes not only companies and incorporated partnerships, but also charities, the voluntary sectorand, as I am sure the right reverend Prelate will be delighted to hearthe churches.
That is the main change made in another place. When the Bill was originally introduced there, entitlement was linked to rateable values, but after considerable debate, it was agreed that the size of the workforce was a better way of settling voting rights. The basis of entitlement is now to be one person for a workforce of up to five, one further individual for each subsequent five employees up to a workforce of 50, with an additional person for every 50 of any excess.
Clause 4 requires qualifying bodies to reflect, so far as they can, the composition of their workforces in their appointments. Those appointed by qualifying bodies must be able to demonstrate an association with the City. Clause 5 establishes a link with the period of that person's work in the City. There has been a great deal of discussion as to how the process will be achieved. Guidance will be issued in due course to employers as to how they might conduct it. Many employers will of course use their well-established machinery for employee relations.
Clause 7 requires reports on the new arrangements to be submitted to the Secretary of State, who must lay them before Parliament. The remaining clauses are machinery and mainly technical and transitional.
The question of the Bill's compatibility with human rights legislation was the subject of much debate in another place. We are familiar in dealing with the issue in Public Bills. In this case, the case of a Private Bill, the statement on compatibility was made on behalf of the promoters but I have a copy of a letter signed on behalf of the Government by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, in which he endorsed that view and that it is not disputed. For completeness, perhaps I may add that the Bill was considered by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
I want to comment briefly on the accompanying reforms which do not form part of the Bill. Reference was made in the Green Paper, from which I quoted, to the position of aldermen. As most people know, aldermen in the City of London are quite different from those who existed in local government generally and who were abolished some years ago. In local authorities, they were selected by the other members but City aldermen have always been directly elected. Indeed, they were the first elected representatives of the City.
Formerly, election was for lifeor at least until the age of 70but that is no longer the case. The City has enacted in its legislative instrumentin its own area it is a legislative bodyan Act of Common Council, by
Another reform has been long overdue. There used to be a procedure for a post-election veto on the appointment of an aldermen because all the aldermen sit in the City as magistrates. That function has been taken over by the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee and approval of such appointment will be made or withheld before someone puts himself forward as alderman.
A reform which was discussed in another place, and in which the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, may have a particular interest, is the review of ward boundaries. If there are to be more electors, selected in the manner which I have described, is there not a danger that the voice of the 5,700 residents will be substantially reduced? It has been agreed that that should not be the case and that the ratio of residents' representatives on Common Council should remain approximately the same.
They are preponderant in only four of the City's wards and it is therefore possible to deal with the matter by revising ward boundaries. Indeed, that process has already started by revising the boundaries in order to ensure that the predominantly residential wards will be able to elect the number of members of the Common Council so as to preserve that proportion. Those who study the number of electors in each ward will recognise that they remain extremely uneven and the process of reform, which continues, can deal with that.
My Lords, this is an unusual Bill but the City is an unusual place. The proposals have been subject to long and wide discussions both within the City and outside and with the Government and other interested parties. I believe that after long debate in another place the Bill comes to your Lordships' House in a form which represents an honest, workable and fair way of dealing with the widely acknowledged shortcomings of the present electoral arrangements in the City. I commend the Bill to the House.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin of Roding, began his speech by reference to the ceremony which attends the presence of Her Majesty the Queen on the boundary of the City, perhaps I may take this opportunity of congratulating the residents of another capital city in our kingdom, Cardiff, on the visit by Her Majesty today and on the honour which Her Majesty has bestowed on the College of Music and Drama in Cardiff: that of Royal status. I am sure that that will give great pleasure to all Welsh expatriates living in the City of London.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, for his careful and detailed explanation of the provisions of the Bill. We are not concerned with whether the City should have its own local government, although if we were starting with a blank sheet of paper, we would not
The arrangements which have developed in the City over the centuries have made the Corporation not only a successful unitary authority for its own area but also the curator of huge open spaces, the landlord of more than 2,000 houses in the surrounding boroughs and the largest port health authority in the UK. Those arrangements are unique and like many ancient and apparently anomalous English institutions they work amazingly well.
When the Bill was considered in another place, honourable Members agreed on the importance of the Corporation to the well being of the City of London, which is the most important financial centre in the world. They also agreed on the need for reform of the current electoral system, which they felt was flawed to the extent that it could not be addressed within the powers of the Bill as presented.
The promoters suggested that the Bill would form part of a wider set of reforms and the Committee in another place welcomed their assurance that inequalities of distribution would be dealt with by review of the ward boundaries, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin. That was said to be within the powers of the Corporation. But there was some uncertainty about the Corporation's powers and this is a good opportunity for setting the record straight, with the benefit of the legal advice which the Committee suggested the Corporation might obtain. Perhaps in winding up the Minister will explain that advice.
That was late in the reign of Henry I who had the reputation of being less hands on than most medieval monarchs, so the right moment was chosen to assert those powers. But the City has been a great urban centre for more than 1,000 years, as we were reminded by the opening on Tuesday of the great Roman amphitheatre below Guildhall.
The Committee took the view that both the number of wards and the number of ward representatives should be reduced. There are 25 wards, each represented by one alderman and between four and 12 councillors, There is also an unspecified number of co-opted members, though no doubt the number must have appeared in previous legislation. The Corporation has the power to reduce the number of representatives per ward, but only Parliament can reduce the number of wards. The Corporation indicated its intention to undertake a boundary review and the Committee observed that the opinion of the Boundary Commission for England might be sought on the matter.
The Corporation has reviewed the boundaries of two wards, Aldersgate and Cripplegate, and it was done with the benefit of advice from the Boundary Commission. The number of councillors has been reduced to 112 and there has been an undertaking by the promotersand I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm itthat the number will be brought down to 100 by the time the Bill comes into effect.
The Corporation has also improved the arrangements for consultation with residents and has reserved seats on the main committees for resident members. It is good that so much has been done ex gratia, but it would have been better if these concessions had been embodied in the Bill. As the noble Lord explained, the Bill has taken a long time to get this far, but perhaps that has provided a useful incentive to the Corporation to get on with some of the reforms which were suggested by the committee in another place. Will it go further and is there any intention ultimately to reduce the number of councillors to correspond with the major local authorities, including the London boroughs, which surround the City?
Has the Corportion explicitly rejected the proposal that the number of wards should be reduced, as suggested by the Committee and, if so, can the noble Lord tell us on what grounds? Does it consider that the aldermen should continue indefinitely? They are appointed automatically as JPs and, as explained, they also act as governors and trustees of schools, hospitals and charitable bodies with ancient City connections. I have no doubt that this is valuable work on behalf of the community. But it is not obvious to me that they are functions which require the holding of elected office. At present, the Lord Mayor has to be an alderman, but if aldermen were abolished, then he or she could be elected by the Common Council.
It was suggested by the honourable Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, when asked about aldermen at Second Reading in another place, that there were historic reasons for the retention of the office; that it was a matter of tradition, the Royal Commission of 1960, and the decision by Parliament to exempt the City when aldermen were abolished everywhere else in the 1970s. He did not attempt to
The promoters have not sought to defend the power of veto which was formerly exercisable by the aldermen against elected councillors. I gather, and the noble Lord confirmed it, that there has been an undertaking that the power will not be used again in the future. Again, would it not have been preferable if this concession had been embodied in the present Bill?
The Bill itself deals only with the franchise in elections to the Common Council. It was a pity that these wider issues were not covered. An undertaking was given by the Corporation that it would report on further reforms proposed by the committee within five years, of which three have already elapsed. It would be good if the noble Lord could tell us the time scale of that report.
However, by focusing narrowly on the electoral roll, the promoters in some ways made life more difficult for themselves because the discussion centred entirely on the existence of the business vote and its extension by 39,000 votes under these proposals, apparently swamping the 8,000 residential voters. I say "apparently" because, as explained by the promoters, the residential and business votes are concentrated in separate wards so that the number of councillors elected by the vastly increased business vote would still be the same. It was said that their equity had been watered down, so to speak.
If I may say so, that was being a little economical with the truth. The noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, was not entirely accurate when he said that the ratios between the business and residential vote had been maintained. It would only be fair to acknowledge that the promoters responded to the views expressed in another place and by the London Labour Party in making the business vote dependent on the number of employees rather than the rateable value, as in the original draft of the Bill. They also excluded the government and bodies exercising statutory powers from the businesses which were entitled to vote. Those amendments came at the end of consideration of the Bill in another place, which is another reason for being fairly relaxed about the long, drawn-out proceedings which, as the noble Lord explained, have taken three-and-a-half years so far.
The honourable Member for the Cities of London and Westminster said that the residents were entirely happy with the proposals in the Bill. They are apparently content to see the percentage of their vote considerably reduced, as shown by the Corporation's conclusions on the review of ward boundaries. I shall give the figures for the two wards which have already been reviewed. In Aldersgate, the effect of the boundary changes together with the extension of the business vote as now proposed in the Bill, is to reduce the residents from 91.9 per cent of the total to 72.8 per
In the wards adjacentFarringdon Within, Farringdon Without, Coleman Street, Bassishaw and Cheapresidents were already greatly outnumbered by the business voters and after this Bill they will be in an even smaller minority. In no case dealt with under the review is the balance of power between the residents and business voters altered by the new franchise. Only seven out of the 25 wards have been effectively reviewed by being next door to the two which have been completed. That leaves another 18 wards which still have to be reviewed. Can the noble Lord say why all the wards were not reviewed at the same time instead of stringing out the process over several years? Has he any timetable for the rest of the process or do we have to rely on the original undertaking given in May 1999 to complete the review in not more than six years? Will the Corporation undertake to follow any advice given by the Boundary Commission in the remainder of the process and, if not, has it any proposals on how any differences of opinion between itself and the Boundary Commission are to be resolved?
The wards reviewed so far contain 4,614 voters out of a total of 5,700 on the list for 2001-02. If one considers the remaining wards, only two have a resident vote of more than 100 and in the other 16 there is a total of 269 residents who are already heavily outnumbered by the business vote in those wards. In Portsoken and Queenhithe, however, if the boundaries remain unchanged the residents will find themselves in a minority. The Corporation gave an undertaking that,
The petitioners have a number of other points which they wish to raise going beyond the Long Title of the Bill. One is greater transparency as regards City cash. It will be for the Select Committee to decide whether to give the latitude to do that. There is one matter on which I believe they are entitled to a better answer than they have been given so far and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, touched on it. It is the assertion that the Bill contravenes Article 3 of the First Protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides that elections must be held,
One of the petitioners wrote to Ms Jean Corston, MP, the chair of the Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, asking her to elucidate the opinion of the Committee expressed in its 14th report of March 2002, that the Bill does not raise significant human rights questions. There is no indication in that report that the Committee heard arguments on the point
I hope that your Lordships will agree that there is enough substance in this Bill to have made it worth a Second Reading debate, which would not have occurred if I had not put my name down to speak on it. Another place, in its wisdom, has approved the doubling of the business vote in the City, albeit on the basis of a more rational franchise based on the number of workers in qualifying bodies, and with undertakings on the balance of voting strength between residential and business voters. It is not for us to embark on a fundamental review of the powers and composition of the City Corporation, although your Lordships may think that in the longer term, if Parliament is being drastically reformed, the City cannot remain immune from scrutiny. What we can do is to provide a further opportunity for considering matters that have admittedly been canvassed at some length in another place, but where they generated rather more heat than light. I hope that we have been able to do that this afternoon.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for the careful consideration that he has given to the Bill in which he has raised points, some of which he frankly admitted had been raised in another place. I tried to deal with some of them in my opening speech but some, clearly, I must do my best to answer.
The legislative powers of the City have a long-standing history. They go back to the charter to which the noble Lord referred. As far as I am aware, no one has ever sought to challenge the common council's right to, as it were, make its own laws within the ambit of that charter. Of course, some things require an Act of Parliament. We have an Act of Parliament before us as the voting system could not be changed under the charter powers. However, the ward boundaries can be changed. That has happened on a number of occasions in the past, notably after the bombing of World War
I find it difficult to agree with the noble Lord's complaint that matters which can be dealt with outside the Bill ought to have been dealt with in the Bill. It seems to me that if any subordinate authority has powers to deal with certain matters, one does not need to put them in a Bill. I sought to explainI did not leave it outthat the whole question of boundary reviews and other matters are being dealt with in accordance with the procedures. As regards the boundary reviews, there is a committee of review which consists of senior members of the judiciary and the town clerk. They report to the common council. That is what happened as regards the first two reviews to which the noble Lord made reference, although common council made minor changes. Those boundary changes are now settled.
As regards the timetable for the remaining matters, I cannot give an undertaking on that, but no doubt it can be explored if the Bill proceeds to Committee stage. I believe that there was some confusion between the number of voters and the number of common councillors that they represent. I deal, first, with the number of common councillors. Clear undertakings have been given that the number will be reduced. There were 130more even than the City of Birmingham! It is widely recognised that that is too many. As I say, a clear undertaking has been given that the number will be progressively reduced. However, as your Lordships will know, reducing the size of an elected assembly is not an easy matter, or, if I may say so, reducing the size of an unelected one. The matter will take time but it is clearly on track. The noble Lord mentioned a figure of 100 by the time the Bill becomes law. That is certainly a target that the City Corporation wishes to reach.
As regards the number of electors, there will be a dilution of the number of residential electors. However, as I made clear in my opening remarks, one of the purposes of the realignment of the ward boundaries is to make sure that, despite the dilution of the residential voters by the addition of the large number of what I might call broadly business votersthe people appointed under the procedure that I describedthe number of common councillors who will be elected as the result of the residential voters will be approximately the same proportion as they are now. That is the intention. It will have to be approximate because one cannot determine these matters mathematically and precisely and, of course, they change.
As regards aldermen, the noble Lord said that the matter of the abolition of the veto should have been in the Bill. However, that has already been done. As it has been done under the City Corporation's own powers, there would be no purpose whatever in putting it in the Bill. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Lord might be prepared to accept that.
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