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Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): To help the hon. Gentleman, I should say that he has already convinced me and my hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell).

Mr. McDonnell: I thank the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Skinner: My hon. Friend did not convince them earlier. He is trying to woo the Liberal Democrats with his tin pot idea, but let me remind him that 99 Members went through the Lobby during the Division on closure. If 100 had gone through, his speech would have been cut short and he could never have referred to liberal democracy. The Liberals entered the Lobby with the rest of them.

Mr. McDonnell: I say to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) that, although we may have convinced him personally, a number of Liberal Democrat Members have consistently voted against such amendments at previous stages. In particular, in the previous Session of this Parliament, the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was happy to accept a business vote. He even said that he was willing to accept a business vote in Southwark, which represented an astounding admission in respect of anti-liberal theory.

My amendment would protect and promote individual rights. Those rights would protect against the power of business by limiting the voting strength of voters enfranchised only by the possession of property, thereby reflecting the arguments made by those promoters of liberal pluralist democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville and Hamilton, the advocate of a liberal American constitution and author of "Federalist". Indeed, the constitutional arrangement that I propose for the City corporation is based on Hamilton's book.

My amendment reflects the liberal philosophical principle of the protection of minorities or potential minorities. Under the existing electoral methods of the City corporation, the residents are a minority under political siege. In promoting the Bill, the City corporation proposed, nay promised, that a raft of measures would be voluntarily introduced to protect the residents. I do not believe that any such measures have been introduced, hence the need for my amendments. I argued for de Tocqueville-like amendments that would enshrine protection of the electoral and democratic rights of the residents, who are a potential minority.

9.30 pm

At the root of liberal philosophy--modern liberalism, and Liberal Democratic party politics--is the importance of a voting system that not only protects the individual, but ensures that the Government, councils and, in this context, the City corporation are elected with the demonstrable support of the majority of the respective electorates. I have sought to go some way towards that objective with amendment No. 59, which introduces the

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single transferable vote system--that is, proportional representation--to the business and employees' electoral colleges.

Mr. Dismore: Does my hon. Friend propose that the STV system should also apply to the residential element of the electoral college? If not, there would presumably be a rather mixed system--

Mr. Corbyn: A mongrel system!

Mr. Dismore: A mongrel system, indeed. We would have a system in which the residents would be voting according to the traditional first-past-the-post system, while the other elements of the college would be voting according to the STV system. Does such a mix of systems create a democratic process? Will my hon. Friend also say whether voting for members of the council will take place according to first past the post or STV?

Mr. McDonnell: I am happy to compromise with the Liberal Democrats so far, but only so far. That is why I have restricted my proposal to the first stage of the indirect election in the employees' and business electoral colleges, and have not applied it to the second stage, which involves members of those colleges' casting their votes for members of the City corporation. It is also my reason for not extending my proposal to the residential vote.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield): The American constitution and the philosophy of the Conservative party contain a principle of equal access to the law. When the Supreme Court came to consider the question of districts in the United States, it put to them the argument that equal access to the law meant equal access to the lawmakers--in other words, one man or one woman, one vote. Once we depart from that principle, we deny equal access to the law. That is a constitutional principle that I would expect every Member to accept.

Mr. McDonnell: I would as well, but we have discovered during our debate not only that the promoter and its protector the City corporation do not accept that principle but, regrettably, that despite a century of Labour party tradition a Labour Government no longer accept it. That is why a succession of Labour Ministers have come here, fairly cravenly--I naturally include the Minister who is present now--to justify the Government's reassessment of their position. Let us put it no more strongly than that.

Mr. Pound: Before my hon. Friend proceeds with his stealthy seduction of the Liberal Democrats, may I counsel him to be slightly circumspect? By seducing the Liberal Democrats, he may lose the adherence of some Labour Members.

Mr. McDonnell: My aim is to go from party to party represented here, and to identify a consensus on the basis of which we can all support the amendments.

Mr. Corbyn: May I assist my colleague in his eternal search for consensus? He said that the Minister had been

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"craven". Can he tell us whether the Government have had discussions with him, or with the City, about the amendments and his attempts to reach some form of compromise? Are they party to the compromise, or have they yet to be hauled on board?

Mr. McDonnell: We have yet to receive a ministerial response to my amendments. I suggest, however, that the lines of communication between the City corporation and No. 10--and the Government overall--provide rather more access than those between the Government and me.

As I have said, I have sought to go some way towards achieving our objective by introducing a transferable voting system. Proportional representation systems have now been introduced for the election of the London mayor, the Northern Ireland and Welsh Assemblies, the Scottish Parliament and the European Parliament. My amendment is potentially a victory for the Liberal Democrats in what they describe as their campaign for "a fair voting system".

Mr. Dismore: For the sake of completeness, my hon. Friend would presumably wish to add the Greater London Authority to his list of bodies elected by proportional representation.

Mr. McDonnell: I apologise to the members of the Greater London Authority. The omission has nothing to do with the effect, or lack of effect, that they may have had as an authority to date. I simply forgot them.

If the amendment were passed into law, it would potentially be a victory for the Liberal Democrats in their campaign for a fair voting system. I appeal to all Liberal Democrat Members, including the hon. Member for Southwark, North and Bermondsey, wherever he is in his taxi at the moment, to support my amendments on the ground that they are congruent with and based on the mainstream of Liberal political theory. In addition, the amendments flow directly from the statements by the Liberal Democrats in their last general election manifesto in 1997.

Mr. Barnes: In the attempt to gain Liberal Democrat support with spurious proportional representation arguments about the single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies, Liberal Members need to be aware that 55 per cent. or so of the votes within the City of London elections would not be covered by the arrangements under the amendments.

Mr. McDonnell: I was hoping that the Liberal Democrats had not noticed that, but never mind.

The amendments are directly in line with the statements in the last Liberal Democrat general election manifesto. They fulfil the desire, as stated in their manifesto to

They are based upon that belief that

and that

My amendments fulfil most effectively that worthy Liberal Democrat vision of modernising "Britain's outdated institutions", tackling Britain's "unrepresentative" political institutions--these are all direct quotes from the

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manifesto--and thus renewing democracy. The argument that the Liberal Democrats advanced at the last election are the arguments of the amendments--that we should give people more of a say in decision making. If Liberal Democrat Members still believe in their manifesto statements of 1997, it behoves them to support the amendments.

I turn to the reasons why Conservative Members should support the amendments.

Mr. Skinner: I am getting a bit fed up of this big tent philosophy. My hon. Friend has tried to get the Liberal Democrats in. Now he is moving on to the Tories. Where will it end? Ever since he opposed the measure many years ago in this Parliament, and a sterling job he has done, opinion poll ratings for Labour have gone sky high, which points to the fact that we do not need the Liberal Democrats and we do not need the Tories. According to The Sun today, we will get 420-odd Labour Members. Forget the big tent.

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