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5.30 pm

If I am to be intellectually honest, I must say that the corporation might have been vulnerable in this regard before the changes to the alderman system. Aldermen were entitled to sit for life, but that is no longer the case, and the corporation is satisfied that the franchise reforms are wholly in keeping with the requirements of the convention.

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Article 14 of the declaration states:

Mr. Mackinlay: I may refer to the news that the Minister has given us later, but let me say this now.

No doubt the Attorney-General and others will read the report of our deliberations in Hansard. Let me respond to what the right hon. Gentleman has said by pointing out that the legislation would be tested against European norms, and that European norms mean one person, one vote--unimpeded by a property franchise. That is where the legislation is flawed, and I think that the Attorney-General, or whoever else is involved, will note the new test announced by Ministers today.

Mr. Brooke: As there appears to be no evidence of the corporation's discriminating against the various groups named in the declaration, it would appear that what opponents are getting at is the property qualification--as the hon. Gentleman suggested--and the award of additional votes to properties with high rateable values.

It should be noted, however, that the entitlement is awarded to the company, and that any one individual will be allowed to vote only once. No extra power accrues to any one individual as a consequence of these reforms. Of course individuals will have the power to appoint voters, but the manner in which they do so will be governed by the Bill, which will ensure that votes are allocated so that the electorate reflects the work force of the company rather than individuals who can be trusted to vote in the way preferred by the owners. In any case, all City elections are conducted by secret ballot, and there would be no way for the company owner to check how his work force has voted.

I have referred to the opinion of leading counsel on this matter. The hon. Member for Thurrock said that the promoters would not dare to accept the new clause, because the Bill would not meet the human rights obligations. That statement conflicts with the fact that the City obtained an opinion from leading counsel--whose credentials I have described to the hon. Gentleman--which confirmed that the Bill is compatible with convention rights. I stress that that was said by leading counsel, not a common-or-garden solicitor.

Mr. Mackinlay: Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of rights of voting for people in the City of London, may I make this point? He is talking, in effect, about people having a second vote. The vast majority will not be resident in the City of London. The equivalent does not apply to other people in the country. Somebody who lives in my constituency and works at Ford in Dagenham has no right to vote in local elections in Dagenham; that person can vote only in local elections where he or she lives. What provision in line with the convention allows superior participation for a certain number of people who happen to work in companies based in the City of London?

Mr. Brooke: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman absorbed my observation that no one would have more

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than one vote. The fact that the Corporation of London still has a business vote was determined by the Labour Government of 1969, which granted a particular status to the City when they abolished the business vote elsewhere.

This Bill is not the only private measure in regard to which the question of compatibility with the Human Rights Act has been raised. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington will recall having raised it in the last session, on Second Reading of the Greenham and Crookham Commons Bill. The promoters of that Bill provided an assurance through a statement by its sponsor, the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), on the Floor of the House, which the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington accepted, withdrawing his objection in the process. That assurance was not stated to have the backing of leading counsel's opinion.

I simply observe that, given that the promoters have secured that backing, there is even greater reason for hon. Members to take the same approach this time, and to accept the assurance that I have given.

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

Mr. Brooke: I will, because I quoted the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McDonnell: My reason for withdrawing my objection was based not just on an assurance, but on the fact that I had examined the Bill in detail myself, and had no doubts about compliance. Now, not only do I have doubts about compliance; I am certain that the Bill does not comply with human rights legislation. That is why I want written assurances that at least advice has been given to the corporation, and some written advice from the Government. Perhaps the new procedure will make that possible.

Mr. Brooke: The hon. Gentleman has one view; leading counsel has another. There is however still time for the practice that we are discussing to be pursued.

I know the hon. Gentleman to be a pure-minded and open-minded man. When it is proved to him that this is compatible with human rights legislation, I am sure that he will accept that.

I am aware that there is some discourtesy to the hon. Member for Thurrock, but I think we have covered the business encompassed by the proposal. I beg to move that the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put:--

The House proceeded to a Division.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs. Sylvia Heal): Will the Serjeant-at-Arms investigate the No Lobby? It has been 14 minutes since the start of the Division.

The House having divided: Ayes 99, Noes 18.

Division No. 49
[5.36 pm


Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, David (Bour'mth E)
Baldry, Tony
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret
Beggs, Roy
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brady, Graham
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Burstow, Paul
Campbell, Rt Hon Menzies
(NE Fife)
Chapman, Sir Sydney
(Chipping Barnet)
Clappison, James
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Colman, Tony
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James
Cranston, Ross
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Dowd, Jim
Duncan, Alan
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Evans, Nigel
Flight, Howard
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Gale, Roger
Garnier, Edward
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Green, Damian
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hammond, Philip
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David
Heppell, John
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hughes, Ms Beverley (Stretford)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jenkin, Bernard
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Khabra, Piara S
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Letwin, Oliver
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham)
MacKay, Rt Hon Andrew
Maclean, Rt Hon David
McLoughlin, Patrick
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Maples, John
Merron, Gillian
Michael, Rt Hon Alun
Moss, Malcolm
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Portillo, Rt Hon Michael
Prescott, Rt Hon John
Prior, David
Randall, John
Robathan, Andrew
Rooker, Rt Hon Jeff
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
St Aubyn, Nick
Spicer, Sir Michael
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Swayne, Desmond
Syms, Robert
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Temple-Morris, Peter
Touhig, Don
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Tyrie, Andrew
Walter, Robert
Waterson, Nigel
Whittingdale, John
Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Wilshire, David

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Peter Bottomley and
Mr. David Amess.


Allan, Richard
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Dismore, Andrew
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Iddon, Dr Brian
Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
McDonnell, John
Mackinlay, Andrew
McWalter, Tony
Pike, Peter L
Savidge, Malcolm
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Stunell, Andrew
Vis, Dr Rudi

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn and
Mr. Stephen Pound.

It appearing on the report of the Division that fewer than 100 Members voted in the majority, Madam Deputy Speaker declared that the Question had not been decided in the affirmative.

11 Jan 2001 : Column 1313

Mr. McDonnell: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given that the debate will now continue, would it be possible for the statement made by the Government earlier today by means of a parliamentary answer to be copied and circulated to all hon. Members engaged in the debate?

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