Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. McDonnell: I would not wish to break down the honorific functions of the individual wards. I have maintained that tradition, which has been built up since mediaeval days. However, I envisage one single entity: the City corporation voting area. It is not, to be frank, unlike one of the individual wards of any particular borough within London. In fact, the residential population in an individual borough ward is probably higher than it is in the square mile as we know it.

Mr. Barnes: If I understand my hon. Friend correctly, he is saying that there would be about 5,000 votes for

2 May 2001 : Column 928

residents. His amendments give 2,000 to businesses and 2,000 to employees, so there is a possibility that residents could rule the roost if they acted together. That has some attractions, but normally under electoral college provisions, especially those taken from the Labour party, which has seemed to influence a great deal of my hon. Friend's ideas, the practice is a third, a third, a third--no single group begins to dominate another. Can he explain why he has not picked up that particular position?

Mr. McDonnell: Let me go through it step by step. I am sure that hon. Members would welcome the idea that the objective is to protect the residential vote--the residents themselves. The amendment would ensure that no stakeholder group--my hon. Friend is right--was able to predominate over the residential voters. That would set in the constitution of the City corporation what in effect is being set in the Bill: the primacy of the residential qualification as against qualification by business presence or ownership, and qualification by presence in the City as an employee.

My hon. Friend is correct: it is primus inter pares. The residents are prime in terms of their status within the hierarchy. We need to protect the residential vote. That protection would be in the Bill if the amendments went through. It is an acceptance that the residential vote, because it reflects the overall tenure of democracy and every other section of government structure in this country, must be primarily protected.

Mr. Corbyn: I support the amendments and, as my hon. Friend will know, I have endorsed them in any event, but another amendment perhaps needs to be considered: whether there should be a positive disbarment on people voting in both the residential and the business sector. It does not seem clear whether the amendments cover that issue. People could have two votes.

Mr. McDonnell: There may be some opportunity to draft such an amendment at a later date or during one of the regular reviews. I have not undertaken that task with this batch of amendments, largely because I felt that it was too complex and unwieldy.

The point of the first group of amendments is that they go some way towards a compromise, acknowledging that the electoral principles of the City corporation have come partly into line with those underlying the remainder of local government in this country: the primacy of the residential vote. The electoral qualification is and should be based on residency but, because we accept that it is a business district, other factors should be taken into account when determining qualification to vote--business operation and employment.

Mr. Dismore: Can I put a suggestion to my hon. Friend? It seems that he is creating an enormous, complex bureaucracy that will no doubt cost a lot of money to administer. Has he considered simply using existing City structures to corporate the business college: the City livery companies and the guilds? There is already a prototype format. It would not take a great deal to tart them up a bit to meet the basic principles that he is trying to advance.

Mr. McDonnell: Later, I shall address that issue. In effect, this group of amendments does that. They are a

2 May 2001 : Column 929

reconstitution in a democratic form of the old system of guilds, but within what we describe as business operational constituencies.

Amendment No. 8 defines an employees' electoral college as a body comprising voters who have been appointed--again, indirect election--and who have responsibility for electing the employees' voters, who are then entitled to vote in the ward elections for the City corporation. By ward elections I mean the election overall: the general election within the City corporation for the common council. The employees' electoral college is a straight comparison with the business electoral college.

Amendment No. 22 amends clause 3 by inserting a description of how the employees' electoral college will be formed. The electoral college will be based on a form of employees' or workers' suffrage. The amendment enfranchises employees who are employed within the City of London. They will be eligible to elect from among themselves their colleagues, who will then serve in an electoral college reserved solely for employees: for workers.

Those members of the employees' electoral college will in turn be eligible to elect voters, who will be qualified to cast their votes in elections for the City corporation for the first time since the original days of the guilds. It returns to the mechanism originally envisaged when the City corporation was established and empowered under the monarchy.

Mr. Dismore: Is the definition of employee that my hon. Friend is using for the purposes of his franchise the same as that which commonly applies in employment law, or has he another in mind?

Mr. McDonnell: We should maintain a consistency across legislation, and the definition will be that which is within employment law. My hon. Friend will have some points to make on that, but consistency is important as the matter has an impact on registration.

Mr. Hopkins: I am interested in my hon. Friend's description of the employees' electoral college. I am concerned about whether the employee representatives will be independent of their employers. In other industries and the business world, we have trade unions, which guarantee protection for workers. Where trade unions do not exist, we see token representative organisations and staff associations, which are under the control and influence of the employer. How independent will the representatives be, and what guarantee will we have of their independence?

Mr. McDonnell: It is not for this Bill to encompass those forms of protection, but there is the potential for protection in law for employees against intimidation by employers in no matter what respect of their activities. Some of this Government's trade union legislation would provide some protection, but I would welcome any further amendments that my hon. Friend might feel were needed.

Mr. Dismore: On the definition of employee, I am sure that my hon. Friend has had many letters--as have I--

2 May 2001 : Column 930

about the people affected by IR35, whose employment position is somewhat anomalous in terms of employment legislation; they are not technically employees but, for taxation purposes, they seem to be becoming employees. Bearing in mind how many people in the City are probably working under the terms of IR35, where would they fit into his mechanism? Are they employees or not? If not, will they be disfranchised?

Mr. McDonnell: Under that definition, they would be seen as employees; otherwise they would fall outside the system altogether and would not be eligible for membership of the employees' electoral college. They might then be eligible for membership of the business operational constituencies of the business electoral college because they would be seen almost as self-employed. My own view is to corral them into the employees' electoral college.

Mr. Skinner: What are we talking about here? Is it sweetheart unions? Is it just one union? Is it unions without strikes? Is it a works council? My hon. Friend chose his words carefully in response to the earlier intervention about the trade unions from my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins). We ought to get this straight; is this the German system, or what is it?

Mr. McDonnell: Within the City corporation, very few employees operate within trade unions. Much as my hon. Friend and I may wish employees in the City to be trade unionists and their trade unions to represent them in some form through the employees electoral college, I do not believe that that is feasible at this stage. However, our proposal may be an incentive for trade union organisation within the City corporation, so that employees can come together and mobilise colleagues' votes to pursue policies through the City corporation.

Mr. Dismore: It seems to me that my hon. Friend is actually proposing a disincentive to join a trade union. If the employee franchise were organised around the trade union system, that would be an incentive to join, as those concerned would get their vote within the system. What my hon. Friend proposes means, effectively, that it does not matter whether someone is a member of a trade union or not; they still get the vote. It would be much simpler to ask the trade unions to organise the franchise vote--they are used to organising elections, under the control of the Electoral Reform Society--to get rid of all the enormous superstructure that my hon. Friend seems to be creating, at great public expense.

Mr. McDonnell: It may well be that that mechanism could be used in future, but it is open to us at the moment to facilitate the trade union role within the City of London corporation through this Bill, although that might be an incentive for a form of organisation at a subsequent date.

Next Section

IndexHome Page