HC Deb 15 January 1987 vol 108 cc465-80

Order for Third Reading read.

7.11 pm
Sir Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead and Highgate)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I undertake this task for several reasons, first, because my hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) is a Minister, so is debarred from speaking. Secondly, he has been a close colleague and personal friend for more than 20 years and has asked me if I would help him out in this capacity. It also gives me an opportunity to repay some of the great kindnesses shown to me by his late father who was a distinguished Member and Minister in this House.

My City connections are that I am a member of the Guild of Freemen of the City of London and that I went to the City of London school. Therefore, I have always taken a great delight in what is done in the City. Tonight is somewhat unusual because the Bill had an unopposed Second Reading, has now come back from Committee and we are having this debate because the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) tabled a blocking motion. Because we are now on Third Reading, which is a different debate from Second Reading, I shall just describe briefly the Bill's three main proposals. I shall not weary the House with descriptions of a vast number of other useful but less important items.

First, I shall talk about the Billingsgate fish market. The City has had rights over Billingsgate for about six centuries. In 1982 the market moved to the Isle of Dogs and that was an example of the City's support for the regeneration of docklands, of which it was a pioneer. The City is a tenant in the Isle of Dogs of the Tower Hamlets borough council with which it has an amicable working arrangement. The market provides about 700 jobs for local people.

As the development of docklands has proceeded, new developments have come along and new schemes and roads have been required. The boundary of the present market may need to be adjusted to fit in with those proposals. Part of the Bill allows for that adjustment and it is proposed to achieve that by what seems to be the best solution, which is an exchange of land. That will also give an opportunity for straightening an irregular site. The City has had discussions with the market traders and the Transport and General Workers Union. As a result, certain amendments will be proposed in the other place to specify the clause's objectives in terms of land exchange. The proposals have the full support of the traders and of the union.

Secondly, there is the question of street trading, which is covered in clauses 5 to 15 and basically covers what Londoners know as Petticoat lane. When in about the mid-1960s there was a major road improvement scheme in Aldgate, several stall-holders with pitches in the Sunday market in that part of Middlesex street which is now in Tower Hamlets were displaced. I am sure that I am not alone in being among those who have gone happily to Petticoat lane. I do not share the experience of some people of having their own watch sold back to them at the other end of the market but it was a pleasant visit.

The City agreed to accommodate the traders and a system of licensing was provided under the City of London (Various Powers) Act 1965. Under that Act each of the then displaced traders was entitled to a licence and also to nominate a successor to his pitch on his death. The legislation did not provide for further nominations or for granting street trading licences to others. If that position continued, the Middlesex street market—Petticoat lane—would die. The traders did not wish that to happen and they asked for the City's help. Although it was not obliged to do so, the City agreed to remedy that defect under this Bill and a new code was provided to enable the City to grant further street trading licences. The traders strongly support the Bill's proposals.

I should perhaps put one gloss on street trading, and that is to be found in clause 15, which deals with street photographers. Many of those who operate around Petticoat lane are a nuisance. They operate with pet monkeys and parrots and they let the monkeys hop on to people's shoulders and frighten them. It is considered that there should be licensing of photographers such as the licensing that exists in a vast number of other Acts. There is a clause similar to the one in this Bill in the Greater Manchester Act 1981, the West Midlands County Council Act 1980, the County of Merseyside Act 1980 and the Clwyd Act 1985. So there would be by no means any precedent being created. I stress that the licensing will not affect those undertaking legitimate business, such as journalists.

In the third part of the Bill additional powers are needed for sanitation and drainage because of the type and density of buildings in the square mile and the problems caused by the immense daytime population. These proposals are supported by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and many others who must undertake certain works. The rest, as I have said, is a miscellaneous collection of worthy items which I could explain, if necessary.

I do not know what to explain because, most unusually, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West has failed to respond to requests from either the City of London corporation or its parliamentary agents to say what is worrying him. That gave them no opportunity to try to assist him with any problem that he has. Equally, I would like to have assisted him but, not knowing what he wants to say, I have had to confine myself to the major items in the Bill.

I will, if I may, ask the leave of the House if need be to respond at the end to any matters that are raised, but I hope that the House will give this Bill its Third Reading.

7.18 pm
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

I must tell the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) that I tabled a blocking motion on the Bill to secure a short debate. I fully understand and appreciate that it would have been more appropriate for that to have been done on Second Reading, but for a variety of reasons it was not. I had an opportunity of getting a short debate on Third Reading and I am most surprised, indeed gratified, to see such a large attendance for a Bill that I should have thought would have gone through fairly quickly. I do not intend to detain the House long, but there may be some points which Conservative Members wish to make.

The Bill has not been debated on the Floor of the House. It was not opposed on Second Reading, but was passed as unopposed private business. While I realise that the Chairman and hon. Members on the Committee of the unopposed Bill will have scrutinised it, there is no substitute for a good free-ranging debate on the Floor. I appreciate that I cannot have a truly free-ranging debate today because we are now on Third Reading, so I shall stay close to the provisions of the Bill.

No Bill involving the City of London should pass easily through the House. The title of the Bill, City of London (Various Powers) Bill, reflects the great range of powers, abilities and responsibilities that the City of London retains. As all hon. Members know, the City of London remains a highly controversial body in local government terms. It is amazing that it has managed to survive every local government reorganisation this century. I wish that that could be said of the late Greater London council, of which I had the great honour to be chairman. Perhaps we could learn from the City how to survive against the odds.

The Herbert Commission report of 1957–60, which led to the London Government Act 1963, states: If we were to be strictly logical we should recommend the amalgamation of the City and Westminster. But logic has its limits and the City lies outside them. One understands that the City can defy logic, but from the Bill it is clear that it not only defies logic but has responsibilities which lie well outside its geographical boundaries. The Bill demonstrates that in marked respects.

I agree with the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate that the overwhelming part of the Bill is to be welcomed, so it would not be opposed this evening. Certainly the amendments in respect of Billingsgate are welcome and, as I know, were the result of lengthy discussions with the Billingsgate traders and the TGWU. I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) who played a significant part in initiating those discussions and reaching an agreed solution for amendments to be tabled in another place.

Similarly, Clauses 5 to 13 are undoubtedly urgently needed to provide for the continuation of that part of the Middlesex market which is in the City. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) who interested himself greatly in those clauses.

I have reservations about three clauses in particular, the first of which is clause 19. As hon. Members will see, the clause would allow the City to make byelaws under the Animal Health Act 1981 in respect of the animal quarantine station at Heathrow airport without the approval of the Minister. We should not agree to that extension of powers, especially as it does not involve ministerial agreement. The Act is enforced by the corporation and one may say that the City is, in effect, a strategic authority in that respect for 14 London boroughs.

The London Government Act 1963 made the Corporation of London responsible for the Diseases of Animals Act 1950, which related to imported animals throughout the whole of Greater London, including Heathrow airport. Following an outbreak of rabies in 1969 the legislation on the importation of animals was strengthened and under the terms of the Rabies (Importation of Dogs, Cats and Other Mammals) Order animals can be landed only at ports with an approved holding facility. Heathrow is by far the busiest port in the United Kingdom for animal movements and, as a consequence, the corporation decided to build the animal quarantine station, which was opened in 1977. It is the most sophisticated portal animal station in the world and is concerned with preventing disease entering the United Kingdom and safeguarding animal welfare.

More than 500,000 animals and birds pass through the station each year. The House will wish to be associated with a big "Thank you" to the staff at Heathrow airport who do such an excellent job in protecting our livestock from the importation of animal diseases, especially rabies. I should like to be on record as having thanked the staff for the work that they do.

However, that function should be carried out by a strategic regional authority and perhaps the GLC should have been responsible for it. That leads me to an important point. When the GLC was being broken up Ministers said that it was being broken up so as to relate services much more closely to the communities for which the services were afforded. It was difficult to do that for animal health and it was certainly difficult to do so for transport, the Thames barrier, the fire service and road traffic management. Therefore, the services were transferred either to Government Departments or to indirectly elected boards.

If the Government were being absolutely consistent in their local government changes in London, they should have placed the quarantine section at Heathrow under the responsibility of a Government Department. Perhaps the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would have been the most appropriate. Clause 19 demonstrates, interestingly, the inconsistency of the Government's proposals for the structure of local government and its functions in London. Why should the City of London be responsible for activities at Heathrow airport which is on the other side of the Greater London area? That is why I cannot agree to clause 19, and, if the hon. Gentleman is given an opportunity to reply, perhaps he will explain precisely why that clause is required.

Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I question whether the hon. Gentleman is being logical about the quarantine station at Heathrow airport. Heathrow is the greatest international airport in the world and it is our national airport. If we are to be logical, the Government should take responsibility for that and, indeed, the hon. Gentleman said that. The City of London is contributing nationally £400 million a year or more through rates distribution and is responsible for earning more than £7,000 million a year in trade, so surely it is a question

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. The hon. Gentleman should relate his remarks to the Bill.

Mr. Chapman

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am saying that in practice it is perfectly consistent that the quarantine station at Heathrow airport should continue to be managed by the City of London.

Mr. Banks

Perhaps now the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) will appreciate the difficulties that I have in speaking on this Bill and staying carefully within the confines of its clauses. I would dearly love to enter into a debate with the hon. Gentleman about the role and function of the City of London in respect of the Greater London area, local government structure, its contribution to the wealth of the nation and so on. However, I would be caught out by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in much the same way as the hon. Gentleman. On a more suitable occasion we should get to grips with these problems.

Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can tell us exactly what body he proposes should take over this facility at Heathrow given that, on his admission, it has worked perfectly well over the years and has involved no cost to central Government.

Mr. Banks

I said and repeat that it has worked admirably but the same could be said of the London fire brigade, the Thames barrier or London Regional Transport. Yet all those services were taken away from the Greater London council. Those functions were taken away, according to Government argument, to rationalise local government structure. If we apply that same, so-called logic to local government structures, why is the City of London—I do not deny it does a good job—still in charge of something that is not only outside its boundaries but unrelated to anything that it does?

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

If the hon. Gentleman thought that the Government were wrong before, he must therefore think that they are right now.

Mr. Banks

One can be consistent as to whether one is right or wrong. I am not accepting the political arguments advanced for dismantling the Greater London council, but I can see the logic in that argument and all I am saying is that it should be extended to the City of London's functions. One is involved at two levels—one is trying to find logical structures and one is also influenced by political feelings.

My feelings towards the City of London are biased. I am totally opposed to its continued existence because it is an anachronistic institution which should have been abolished many years ago. I could continue but there will be an opportunity—not tonight—to pursue that strand of the argument to a greater degree.

I shall try to move with haste as I do not wish to detain the House. Clause 22 of the Bill seeks to amend the Epping Forest Act 1878. I wish to declare an interest straight away. I live in the district of London that is known as Forest Gate. It is on the edge of Epping Forest and Forest Gate is in my constituency of Newham, North-West. Epping forest covers some 6,000 acres. Those hon. Members who have not had the great pleasure of exploring the forest will not be aware that it is situated in the east of London.

I immediately appreciate and indeed approve of the 19th century reasons for the City of London securing the forest, but in view of the Local Government Act 1985 it would be consistent with that Act if the forest were run by a joint committee of the boroughts and districts in which it lies.

The clause—I realise that I must talk about that—relates to the register of commoners. The register was for those who were eligible to vote for the verderers section 30 of the Epping Forest Act 1878. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) has many family links with the history of Epping forest and perhaps if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, he can find an interesting way to tell us about it.

The verderers sit on the City's Epping forest committee. Paragraph 5 of the fourth schedule of the 1878 Act says: where a commoner is under age or of unsound mind or a married woman, his or her guardian, committee or husband shall be entitled to be on the register in his or her place. I find it intriguing since it is linking those of an unsound mind with married women. It goes to show the great depth of sexism that existed in Victorian Britain. Obviously, when a woman married she became nothing more than the chattle of her husband. Clearly this must be changed and that is what the proposed clause seeks to do.

In all honesty I must report to the House that when I got up at 5 o'clock on Tuesday morning to get to the House for a ten-minute Bill, my wife said that she must have been mad to marry me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] As a matter of fact, I could not think of anything to say at 5 am except that, if she thought that, she would have been ruled out on two counts from being included in the list of commoners for Epping forest. My wife was not impressed by the argument. However, I told her that when this Bill goes through the House married women would be allowed to be included on the register of commoners——

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

I wonder whether my hon. Friend can tell us whether he met with success in his ten-minute Bill.

Mr. Banks

Yes, indeed. I was successful. Who else would get up at 5 o'clock in the morning? The Bill will be on the subject of fixed Parliaments for a five-year period. I include that as an advertisement if hon. Members wish to support me on 4 February.

In clause 22 the City is seeking to rectify this peculiarly sexist image but it has not done so yet and this is something about which I wish to ask the hon. Member for Hampstead and Highgate.

This bit of Victorian nonsense will not be removed until 1991 because the appointed day means 1 September 1991. I assume that is the next date for voting verderers on to the committee because the last election for verderers of Epping forest was a year ago. I would like to know what happens if a verderer decides to take the equivalent of the Chiltern Hundreds or if a verderer was trampled by one of the herds of grazing cattle. That in itself is a problem. Many households in the area of Newham, North-East have had cattle wander in from Wanstead flats, which are part of Epping forest and start munching up the gladioli and other herbaceous borders that are common in the area.

Obviously there is always a danger from stray cattle. Indeed, people in the area like to see this bit of rural England coming down their front paths. I suggested that the grazing rights should be stopped in Epping forest, but I encountered a fairly resilient degree of public opinion expressing the contrary view. Being a good democrat, I decided that the cattle should be left to adorn the constituency of my next-door neighbour the hon. Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Leighton).

Qualification for voting for the verderers is still based on owning or occupying half an acre of unbuilt land. This means a property qualification is still involved in a partially democratic process of the City. Of course, the City has maintained practices that have long been abolished in other boroughs and in local government. For example, it still has a business vote and it still has aldermen—a practice that has long since disappeared elsewhere. But the City is always able to defy logic and the reorganisation of local government. Clause 22 again demonstrates that. However, as it goes, I must support it. Nevertheless, it certainly does not go far or fast enough.

Mr. Hanley

Does the hon. Gentleman feel any gratitude towards the City in that in 1985–86 it cost the City £1.5 million to maintain Epping forest? That is to the benefit of all those who use that excellent area, but it costs local ratepayers absolutely nothing and is all at the expense of the City.

Mr. Banks

I am for ever grateful to the City for its contribution to the ratepayers of Newham, Waltham Forest or, indeed, Epping urban district council. They benefit, but I am talking about logical local government structures and about relating services to the local authority in which they are provided. I am just being logical, and it seems to me that there can be no logic in the City running Epping forest, Wanstead flats, Chingford golf course, West Ham park, Burnham beeches—the one that Hammer Horrors always used—the Kent and Surrey commons or Highgate woods. I quickly slipped those into my speech to demonstrate that we are not just talking about Epping forest. The City has acres of green land throughout the whole of the Greater London area. No doubt all those who use those recreational areas are grateful to the City, but the question is whether it is logical. It is logical to be grateful, but is it logical for the City to run them still?

Clause 24 relates to the Central London Railway Act 1892. I have secured a copy of that Act. Section 28(5) refers to Mansion house station and says: Except as regards any entrances facing the Royal Exchange the Commissioners or the Commissioner of the City police shall have powers to close all public entrances to the station or subways at such times and for such purposes as they may deem necessary. I do not understand why the entrances facing the Royal Exchange could not be closed, unless they had to stay open for people dashing out in order to get out of Czarist bonds and into other stocks.

Mr. Hanley

I am sorry to intervene so often in the hon. Gentleman's speech but perhaps it will help to bring his comments to a close. I believe that that entrance had to remain open because there was a public convenience there, to which the public needed ready access. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would welcome that as something provided by the City for people from all parts of the country who happen to be visiting the City.

Mr. Banks

I would always defer to the hon. Gentleman when it comes to a knowledge of public conveniences around London. Indeed, I am very grateful for that piece of information. In many ways it demonstrates how useful this sort of debate can be, because one can, at times, exchange incredibly useful information.

Why does clause 24 seek to give similar powers to the corporation and to the Commissioner of Police in respect of the entrances to Bank underground station for whatever purposes "they may deem necessary"? Enormous powers are being given to the City corporation. Why should the City corporation be granted those additional powers by the House? I should certainly like to oppose the clause.

Clause 2(1) talks about the Commissioner of Police for the City. That is another anachronism. The City has its own police force, and that is unique to London. Ministers jump up and say that it is nonsense for London boroughs to want to become involved in the democratic accountability of the Metropolitan police, but they never refer back to the City, which has had responsibility for policing its own area for many years. This is another perfect example of how the City is always made the exception to the rule when it comes to democratic structures, democratic processes or London local government.

I heard what the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) said, and I do not wish to detain the House further. I was, of course, thinking of calling a Division on Third Reading, but clearly we are not particularly well equipped for that. All those who promised me their attendance have clearly failed, and so on this occasion I shall not push the debate to a vote. Nevertheless, the Bill exemplifies the City's illogical position in respect of its powers and responsibilities within the structure of local government. It is an institution long overdue for change, and that will be the task of the next Labour Government.

7.45 pm
Sir John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

I always enjoy listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg), and it is a pleasure to support the Bill's Third Reading which he so agreeably moved.

If the Labour party has its way, there will not he many more such private Bills. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), for example, is eager to destroy the ancient traditions and institutions of the City of London. But, although they offend his logic, they are cherished at home and honoured abroad. Indeed, I think that Tory Members would be inclined to say blow logic if illogicality gives efficiency and satisfaction. It is apparent from the hon. Gentleman's speech that the Opposition's hostility to the City arises in part from their fury that the GLC is no more, and is so little lamented.

I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) intervened. I have no interests in the City, but I salute the City corporation in their capacity of Conservators of Epping Forest, whose northern parishes I have the honour to represent. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West had something to say about clause 22. He is un-English in his addiction to logic, and he spoke of the City corporation as a strategic authority. He mentioned, in particular, the animal quarantine arrangements and animal welfare provision at Heathrow airport. Hon. Members will want to echo what he said in generous praise of the staff there. But the difference between him and me, and no doubt my hon. Friends, is that when the public obtain a service at no cost to the taxpayer, we are glad and he is sorry.

My experience of the City's extra territorial responsibilities in connection with Epping forest has been a happy one. Indeed, when the GLC was being abolished, I proposed that the Lord Mayor and the corporation of London should thereafter not only serve as a unifying symbol and focus of loyalty for Londoners, but also provide a framework for those common services that fell outside the responsibility of the London borough councils. The Friends of Hainault Forest, under my presidency, also proposed that the City corporation should take on Hainault forest, which once formed part of the great forest of Waltham or forest of Essex, or, as we usually call it now, Epping forest. Unfortunately, we did not succeed.

The purpose of clause 22 of the Bill was explained by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West. Clearly, the schedule in the Epping Forest Act 1878, which he quoted, is offensive. Any commoner in the forest parishes may he registered as an elector for the choice every seven years of the four verderers. Verderers provide local representation in the management of the forest, which is run extra-territorially by the City corporation through the Epping Forest Committee.

Contrary to the belief of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, who wanted to bring in a greater measure of local control of Epping forest, the fact that, for more than a century, it has been under a remote authority has preserved it from the increasingly powerful pressures of local builders and developers.

A certain member of the public noticed that the offensive terms of the schedule appeared in the literature that was circulated for the election of verderers. As a result of that, the Equal Opportunities Commission wrote that, in its view, the provision was: harmful to the status of married women and certainly against the spirit of the anti-discrimination legislation. As far as I can determine, there is no example of an occasion on which a husband decided to exercise the right to register himself in place of his wife, but the right is offensive. I rather like anachonisms, but I do not like this one.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1975 does not right the wrong because of a provision which states that the Act does not render unlawful any act done by a person if it were necessary for him to do it in order to comply with a requirement of an Act of Parliament passed before this Act. Clearly, the Epping Forest Act 1878 was passed before the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. The House will welcome the steps being taken by the City of London Corporation to remove this obsolete and offensive disfranchisement.

7.52 pm
Mr. Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)

I wish to make three comments about clauses 7, 19 and 22 of the Bill. Even if the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) voted against clause 19, he would not in any way solve the problem. Other legislation would be needed. As you correctly said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that debate will have to wait for another day. I echo the point that the quarantine service at Heathrow is a splendid service provided free by the City of London for the benefit of the nation.

I listened with a great deal of sympathy to the criticisms implicitly made by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West about the sexism contained in clause 22, the reasons for which have been explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). My surname, Chapman, twice contravenes the provisions of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975. I should like to see that measure reorganised to accommodate at least my political embarrassment on that score.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) made an excellent point about the trading licences in Middlesex street. Although we have abolished the county, thank goodness we are not abolishing the street which is sometimes colloquially known as Petticoat lane. Again, my surname plays a modest part in clause 7. I admit that, according to Chaucer, a chapman is a pedlar of cheap, down-market goods.

Mr. Tony Banks

That is a good description of the Government.

Mr. Chapman

Perhaps there is hope for me in it, then. I should add that I have no interest in Middlesex street, or that part of it which is in the City of London, but it is right to pass clause 7 because it honours a commitment that was given in good faith. It is no fault of the City corporation that it would act outside the law if it were to grant these licences to these people and their successors.

I welcome clause 7 and the Bill as a whole. Although this matter is for another day and another debate, Londoners in particular and the country in general should acknowledge and put on record the great contribution that the City makes to our life and to the revenue of the Government and local authorities. I pay tribute to the City corporation and wish it well in the future.

7.55 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Christopher Chope)

It may be helpful if, at this point, I intervene to give a brief explanation of the Government's view on the Bill. Before I do so, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) for bringing the Bill before the House. It is apparent that the narrow scope of the Bill causes a sense of frustration amongst hon. Members, especially when the short title looks so promising for a continuation about the great debate about London government. I must admit to sharing the sense of frustration at not being able to debate the wider issues tonight.

It is a pleasure to see my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) in the Chamber. I served as his PPS for a happy period until last September. I am delighted to see him here, and I am sure that he is disappointed at not being able, by reason of the office that he holds, to participate in this interesting debate.

It is traditional that, on private Bills, the Government take a neutral stance, and this Bill is no exception to that rule. The Government have considered the content of the Bill and have no objection in principle to the powers sought by the corporation. It is for the promoters to persuade Parliament that the powers they are seeking are necessary and justified. My Department and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary are still negotiating with the promoters on some outstanding points, and I hope that these will be cleared up satisfactorily.

The Bill was unopposed in Committee in March last year. In the Government's view, none of the matters raised tonight is of sufficient importance to warrant further delay to the progress of this Bill, and I recommend that it be allowed to proceed.

7.57 pm
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes)

I echo the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Highgate (Sir G. Finsberg) and others in supporting the Bill and in refuting an argument raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). The hon. Gentleman said that it was inconsistent Government policy to allow the City of London to look after the quarantine station at Heathrow, as it has done for many years and with great success, and also to allow it to retain its rights, powers and generosity over Epping forest and so many other areas within Greater London. It is not inconsistent to allow an authority to continue to run these matters if it does so with due care, proper frugality, and proper economy and provides an excellent service to all who use its facilities. It is not against Governments policy to allow a fully democratic authority that has been nothing but of benefit to the nation. It also is not against Government policy to allow a Bill that has involved consultation in the widest sense. The Bill relates to an organisation in the City of London that has the acquiescence of all the people who have been interested in its various parts.

Mr. Tony Banks

Will the hon. Gentleman explain how he can claim that the City of London is truly democratic when, for example, the aldermen of the City are elected for life and have a business vote?

Mr. Hanley

It is not undemocratic to allow a vote to people who have a direct interest in the area concerned. If 99 per cent. of those who occupy the City happen to be those who run businesses in that area, surely it is democratic to give those people a vote. It would be undemocratic to remove the vote in other areas, but that debate is outside the ambit of this evening's discussion. Therefore, I shall not be drawn on that.

It is wholly within the Government's policy to allow a successful organisation, such as the City of London Corporation, the powers which show how it is successfully dealing with changing situations, for example, the way in which it is dealing with Middlesex street market, Billingsgate market, the drainage and sanitation problems, and the large population within the square mile where the type and density of buildings are always changing and the buildings are getting ever higher. The powers would also allow the corporation to show the way in which it deals with the problems faced by tourists in London, for example, the problems that have occurred because of the use of animals by photographic traders, and the way in which it deals with the City walkways.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West will remember the way in which the corporation helped to fund the Museum of London. I know that the hon. Gentleman has great confidence in that musem because he has deposited some valuable items there, to be exhibited to the general public for all time.

@@ I know that all hon. Members are grateful to the corporation for the work that it has done for many hundreds of years—indeed, for a considerably longer time than the Greater London council existed.

Mr. Tony Banks


Mr. Hanley

If the Greater London council had carried on its business with the responsibility that is shown by the City of London Corporation, it might still be in existence.

8.3 pm

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South)

As I listened to the pertinent and felicitous intervention of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, I could not help but think, would that the Government's neutrality was always as benevolent as tonight, and would that ministerial interventions were always as brief and to the point.

I shall he brief, but I should like to do something that no hon. Member has yet been charitable enough to do, and that is to thank the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for giving us the opportunity to put on record the value of the City of London. The hon. Gentleman has performed a signal service and we are all much in his debt. As a freeman of the City and a resident of it, I believe that it functions with great distinction.

Mr. John Wheeler (Westminster, North)

My hon. Friend is also a voter within the City.

Mr. Cormack

If the House ever embraced the doctrine that logic should be our master in all things, we should be in for real trouble. Logic is a good enough servant, but it is a bad master. I am happy that there should be certain illogicalities. I recognise that there are some in the City of London, but, despite that, it does work. It is a proud flagship for Britain. Long may it sail into the future, and long may we support it.

8.6 pm

Mr. Jack Straw (Blackburn)

Like the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack), my hon. Friends and I are grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for affording us the opportunity of this short debate on certain aspects of the operation of the City of London.

As you have made clear, Mr. Deputy Speaker, this is not the occasion for a debate on the constitution of the City. However, I should like to add that the Labour party is about to state, in its discussion document on the future policies of a Labour Government, that it would review the position of the City of London, because the City's present constitution reflects the time when the City was extremely populous. Many people—not just those in the Labour party—take the view that the constitution should be modernised.

It is also worth reflecting upon the fact that on many occasions in previous centuries the City of London corporation, the common council, adopted a radical stance and was opposed to the Government. For example, in the 18th century arguments on whether the then hon. Member for Middlesex should be allowed to take his seat——

Sir J. Biggs-Davison

And the 17th century——

Mr. Straw

Indeed, there were similar arguments in the 17th century.

Our concern is not in any way to throw away the goods because much that the City of London does is good, but to bring the City and its constitution up to date.

I should also like to comment on the percentage over grant-related expenditure assessment, and expenditure increases. You will recall, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that no debate on the problems faced by good Labour authorities is ever complete without a reference to the fact that under the curious system of block grant—rate support grant—that the Government have established, the authority that shows the greatest increase in expenditure in the past seven years is the City of London with an increase of about 300 per cent. The authority that shows the greatest percentage increase over its grant-related expenditure assessment is also the City of London. However, somehow the City always manages to escape rate-capping, while authorities with far more moderate increases in expenditure, for example, Islington and Newham, are somehow caught.

I shall turn now to the merits of the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West recited, my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Mr. Mikardo) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) were heavily involved in those parts of the Bill that relate to Billingsgate market and those that relate to the Middlesex street market. My right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend are anxious that those provisions, as they now appear in the Bill, become law as quickly as possible. I pay tribute to both of them for their work in ensuring that those matters are included in the Bill as it is cast at present.

The other part of the Bill that has aroused discussion relates to the verderers of Epping forest. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West spoke about my family connections with Epping forest. I shall not go into all those connections, except to say that in the previous century my family were among the villagers in the then agricultural village of Loughton who, along with many other people, fought the lords of the manor to prevent the enclosure of the forest.

Sir J. Biggs-Davison

Hear, hear.

Mr. Straw

I am glad that I am joined in that by the hon. Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison). The first consequence of that great battle, in which much was at stake because the villagers had the rights of lopping and grazing in the forest, was the founding of the Commons Preservation Society—not the House of Commons but green commons. The society weighed in in support of the villagers. Legal actions were brought against the lords of the manor and, some time later, the City of London agreed to run the great forest for the benefit of the people of Essex and London. That was confirmed when Queen Victoria came to open the new forest.

As I have said, I disagree to some extent with the way in which the City is run. I speak as somebody who was brought up almost in the forest. The concrete playground of my primary school was exactly opposite the forest. My family still live there, and I cannot say that I can recollect any serious arguments about the way in which the City have administered the forest.

The Bill is a modest amendment and it is important within the context of equal opportunities legislation. I hope that it is agreed to.

8.9 pm

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

I am not sure if the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) is related to Herne the Hunter in that he played in the forest. I seem to remember that Herne came to a rather strange end. The hon. Member implied that in the year 2005 the future of the City may be reviewed. All I would say is that the future of the City was reviewed not long ago. It was reviewed following the Royal Commission that produced the London Government Act 1963. However, I should remind the hon. Gentleman that his comments on GREA were an echo of a parliamentary question tabled by his hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham). The hon. Member for Copeland was shot down in flames by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) and we heard no more from him on that subject.

We have had a strange evening. We have all been debating one subject while behind that facade was another much greater and more contentious issue champing at the bit. However, with your help, Mr. Deputy Speaker, it was not allowed to come under starter's orders. I look forward to that occasion. On a previous occasion I have defended the City against the philistines on the Opposition Benches who wish to abolish it. I am sure that that time will come again. I doubt if the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and I have ever had such an agreeable confrontation. Perhaps that should happen more often.

I found it difficult to help my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mr. Chapman) to remain within the terms of the Equal Opportunities Commission except perhaps to address him as, "Person, person" because I cannot think of a colloquialism for, "chap". However, it may come to me.

The immortal words on neutrality read out by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State struck a familiar note. I have read such words on many occasions with great unhappiness. I am sure that perhaps on this occasion my hon. Friend would have liked to contribute more to the discussion.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) for his contribution and for helping me to obtain the information that I needed to answer some of the questions.

My hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) chided me for not having praised the City. I did that deliberately because I thought that if I praised it too much it might have a counter-effect on other hon. Members which, in turn, might have made the debate more contentious. I yield to no one in my admiration for the City and I am delighted that my hon. Friend put that fact on record.

The hon. Member for Newham, North-West made clear his reason for the debate. He said it was because of his hatred—I do not think that I use the wrong word—for the City of London as a local authority. I do not approve, but I understand. However, I must remind him that it has survived by virtue of various Royal Commissions. He gave us the pleasure of quoting from paragraph 935 of the Herbert report. It is sad that he did not quote the paragraph before. For the sake of completeness, because I know that he is a rounded person and likes to be complete, I shall quote paragraph 934. It states: It will be seen that we propose that the City of London should remain as a separate entity within its present limits. This is an anomaly but we recommend that this anomaly should continue and we make this recommendation as a definite, not a provisional recommendation. I shall now deal with the quarantine and animal health facilities at London airport. The question of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West was fair but wholly illogical. The City was doing that work long before the GLC was established. Therefore, the argument that the function should have gone to central Government or elsewhere when the GLC was rightfully abolished does not hold water. It was carefully considered and it was decided that the GLC should not undertake that function. If it was not undertaken by the City, the cost would fall on central Government or the London boroughs. At present it is paid for by the City. There is no Government grant or subsidy. If the hon. Gentleman would like to fight a campaign to charge the London boroughs for carrying out that service and make them pay for it, I do not think that he would be popular with the London Labour party. He certainly would not be popular with the London Labour boroughs. I suggest that he should gulp hard and let sleeping dogs lie.

Under the present legislation byelaws have been placing a difficult and heavy administrative burden upon the Department of the Environment. It recognises it as such and accordingly has decided that it is not necessary for the Department to confirm any byelaws. Therefore, the change has the consent of the Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Sir J. Biggs-Davison) gave a long explanation of clause 22 to the House. Therefore, I can be brief, because he has given the salient facts. However, as the House knows, the City saved Epping forest from enclosure in the 19th century. It now maintains it at no expense to the ratepayer or taxpayer. Does the hon. Member for Newham, North-West wish those costs to fall upon the London ratepayers? If he does, which is the logic of his proposal, I shall ensure that that fact is known and added to the other costs that he wants to put on them. I do not think that he will be too popular with his colleagues. Like his predecessor—I say this pleasantly—he may have difficulty in reselection.

Mr. Tony Banks

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that I will have no difficulty in reselection. In fact, I have already been reselected. However, the national executive of the Labour party has not approved the reselection because of the involvement of black sections. We shall pass quickly over that. I am sure that I will be imposed on the constituency in the end. I would expect to see the charge for Epping forest fall on the ratepayers of Greater London. However, it would be done on a reorganisation that would free all the City cash and assets for use by Greater London as well. Therefore, we would not be depriving ourselves of City cash but using it more generously around the rest of London.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

If the hon. Gentleman deprived the City of its cash, that would be a once-and-for-all operation. The annual revenue costs would be rather like the goose that laid the golden egg. If one whips the goose away, the golden eggs do not last much longer. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman's suggestion is a little illogical.

Sir John Biggs-Davison

Presumably, if the city corporation was deprived of the management of Epping forest it might be that the ratepayers of Epping Forest would be asked to contribute. They certainly would not wish to do so.

Sir Geoffrey Finsberg

Had the good burgesses of Newham, North-West known that the hon. Gentleman wanted to put the extra burdens upon them, he might not have been reselected. However, we will leave that point.

The hon. Member for Newham North-West raised a helpful point on the 1991 issue. I shall see that it is looked at. The problems that might come up if there were a vacancy need to be looked at. It will not come into effect until 1991 because, as he rightly summised, there will not be a general election of verderers until then. They have a fixed term. However, the hon. Gentleman is clearly an advocate of fixed terms. There are lengthy needs of publication. When one places notices on trees they may be eaten by wandering cattle, butted by deer and may have to be replaced. Therefore, it takes a certain amount of time.

The Bill is useful and, as has been said, the debate has been interesting and pleasant. It has fully justified the existence of the City because it has proved how the City can do a large number of things at no cost to the ratepayer or taxpayer and that it can provide a remarkably good service. I hope that the House will give the Bill its Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.