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John McDonnell: That argument was raised earlier. We have the concept of occupying premises and employing workers to qualify the body to gain votes, but those votes may be exercised by an individual. That is the block vote. There is no reference to shareholders being involved in that decision-making process.

Jeremy Corbyn: Could the provision apply to people who work for a major company, are based overseas but are on the payroll of the head office? Their votes would be taken into account even though they may not have even been in this country for years.

John McDonnell: The definition of occupancy is so watered down by the amendments that there is potential for absent landlords to exercise votes in that way. I urge the House to reject the amendments because they are worthless.

Mr. Dismore: To extend that point, is this not similar to the Irish peerage of the 19th century? Peers who never went anywhere near Ireland had their seats in the House of Peers as it then was and were part of the legislature. They had no contact whatever with the area that they supposedly represented, except perhaps for screwing the peasants to get money out of them.

John McDonnell: I want to move later to an amendment that addresses that point. The promoters amendment to clause 5(5) weakens the link even further.

I ask the House to reject amendments Nos. 1 to 5 because they are worthless. The promoters amendment No. 5 introduces the definition of work force. It designates the work force as

my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North raised this point—on a particular day, "the qualifying date", is ordinarily the premises concerned. On that day each year, the employees of a particular company could ordinarily work at that premises. On every other day of the year, they could be employed elsewhere. They could be working anywhere.

Mr. Hopkins: In extreme circumstances, could we not find that a company had a very small office with a very

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small number of people, a large number of workers working remotely at screens, and a large number of representatives overseas and all over the country? On one day, they could all come together in that tiny office to make up the qualifying vote.

John McDonnell: That is one of the abuses that has been used so far in the governance of the City corporation: the registration of people at premises at which they do not work except on a particular day. The Committee tried at length to eradicate some of those abuses. On every other day of the year, these people could be employed elsewhere. The company could bus them in on the one day to boost its voting capacity in the City corporation.

Jeremy Corbyn: Companies would not stoop to that.

John McDonnell: They have stooped to that already.

Jeremy Corbyn: I cannot believe it.

John McDonnell: Look at some of the exposures of previous years.

The new clause also identifies that the people concerned must be persons who work for that body. The entitlement is based upon the number of employees who work for that body on a particular day. The day before, they could be working for anyone. On the day in question, a company could recruit a massive number of temporary workers to boost its voting entitlement, paying them nothing. They could be part-time workers—

Mr. Dismore: On two-hour contracts.

John McDonnell: Exactly. On that day, the company could boost its voting entitlement only to lay off those people the next day, having gained significant voting capacity within the City corporation.

Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend is outlining an important flaw in the proposals. As far as the electorate in the real world is concerned, we have moved away from a formal date for compiling the electoral register. We have moved towards the concept of the rolling register, which means that people can register to vote and participate in local and national democracy as and when they change address. Should we not have something equivalent for the City?

John McDonnell: There are fundamental issues at stake here, and there is a large potential for abuse. I understood the City corporation's argument that there might be problems in registering workers at a particular point in time at any particular premises. But what annoys me is that these problems could have been ironed out over the last four years of the debate; we could have set up a system of registration to overcome the problems.

Mr. Dismore: Surely compiling a register on a given day in the City of the number of employees concerned—bearing in mind the huge amount of technology available—cannot be any harder than a trade union compiling a list of its members for when it has to have a ballot for industrial action.

John McDonnell: I do not think that it is, and that is why one of my amendments places trade union registration at the heart of the Bill. It is the simplest way of identifying who is working where and who qualifies.

Mr. Hopkins: Does my hon. Friend agree that there are at least two possible ways of overcoming this? The

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first is to have a register that is made up once a year, with a registration officer—from the Electoral Commission, perhaps—who does spot checks from time to time. The second is to have a reasonable occupancy level at a particular office. If an office can accommodate 10 people but 100 are registered there, clearly something is amiss.

John McDonnell: There are common-sense ways of dealing with the abuse and fraud that could result from the system, and the new clause would leave the system open to the most appalling abuse. It is not a fantastical scenario either, because it is based upon existing gerrymandering practices in the City corporation.

Mr. Dismore: Surely a way round that point is to look at the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act 1963, which laid down a minimum floor space that an individual office worker should have to occupy. If it turned out that a company tried to register more people than its office space allowed, it should be prosecuted for breaching the legislation.

John McDonnell: I know that a proposal was drafted at one point—one that I was often induced to support by the City corporation—to use rateable value for calculating employers. That could be a fall-back position for a system in which we enforce standards upon employers and identify gerrymandering. The new clause has the potential for gerrymandering, a time-honoured tradition that the City corporation has sought to stamp out.

9.30 pm

Andrew Mackinlay: The debate is clearly focusing on how we satisfy the need for probity and a proper ethical process in relation to who should have a franchise. Will my hon. Friend consider tabling further amendments to the Bill, not to make the hefty tome that is the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 apply to the City of London corporation but to enable the Electoral Commission to deal with the matter? There is a rich seam of further thoughts for Parliament to consider in relation to whether aspects of that Act could be incorporated into the Bill. The Act has a great many provisions.

John McDonnell: Exactly. I hope that the Bill's promoters will realise the errors of some of their amendments. If they do, it will give us the opportunity to pull back the Bill and table such amendments. In my own small way, may I refer my hon. Friend to amendments (b) to (d) on page 127 of the amendment paper, in which I try to address some of the abuses that have been mentioned?

Phil Sawford: I have to say to my hon. Friend yet again that there was no discussion in Committee of how to verify these matters, or of how the registers would be drawn up. Nor did the petitioners have the opportunity to discuss the matter. On the question of numbers, and in reflecting on another major financial centre, I looked on in horror as it was explained on television that 50,000 people worked in the twin towers of the World Trade Centre. It was with relief that we realised that the actual number was significantly less, but that illustrates how we can judge such numbers by the size of a building and then discover, through a tragedy, that nothing like that number of people is inside.

Andrew Mackinlay: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I understand that, as Chairman of Ways and

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Means, you have an ongoing discretion in relation to some of the matters relating to this Bill, and that it is open to you to consider at some stage the prudence of this matter continuing in Parliament. I understand that you have, either directly or indirectly, some leverage and discretion in that matter. Bearing it in mind that the Bill started its life and completed its Committee stage before Parliament considered and enacted the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000, would I or any other hon. Member be competent to put a representation to you on this question, and would you consider one? Events have overtaken us in the area of electoral law, and you might consider this a matter that should properly have been taken account of in Committee. I am not asking you to consider my submission tonight; I am just asking whether this is something of which you could legitimately take cognisance.

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