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Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): On the question of workers' votes, I would like to get some answers at this early stage, as there could be some problems later. Will the workers vote on the basis of one member, one vote? Will the trade unions allow block votes? Will everybody vote on the principle of one member, one vote, or will some unions supposedly use block votes, if they want to do so? Would such votes be made on the basis of the parliamentary Labour party votes, which are divided into thirds? Finally, are we talking about the same City that 6,000 people were trying to get rid of yesterday? Is that the same City that we are trying to prop up?
Mr. McDonnell: When I commenced discussion of the amendments in our previous debate, I proposed to begin by taking hon. Members through them. My hon. Friend raises issues of detail that I shall address in due course. We are referring to the City of London. The City of London corporation covers what we euphemistically call the square mile, so he is right about that point, and I give him that assurance.
Mr. Andrew Dismore (Hendon): My hon. Friend might recall an intervention that I made in our previous debate, in which I said that it might be easier for him to give us a general overview of how the amendments fitted together before he spoke in detail. Having re-read Hansard this afternoon, I am even more concerned that we are getting the detail before the overview. I am being given a lot of detail, but I am finding it difficult to fit that information together without getting the bigger picture first. I know that he has prepared his speech along those lines, but perhaps he could look further into his notes and make some comments of a more general flavour, so that we can see how it all fits together before we discuss the detail.
Mr. McDonnell: Let me address the structure of the debate and resolve this matter. I suggested that I should proceed by taking hon. Members through the amendments and examining the implications of each one. I proposed to explain their role and how they operated together to introduce the electoral college mechanism, and then to
Some of my hon. Friends were anxious about that approach and wanted me to give the bigger picture before I set about the detail. However, the very hon. Members who were concerned about getting bogged down in the detail then participated in a rather lengthy debate about white van men and so on--a discussion that was tedious at times. I do not want to take that route, tempting though some hon. Members might find it. Instead, I want to take a clear, decisive and expeditious route, and to set out the principles that underlie the amendments.
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I find the position that my hon. Friend outlines somewhat confusing. The batch of amendments that we are considering begins with amendment No. 7. We are being given details about the nature of the electoral college, but the lead amendment asks for further consideration of the Bill to be delayed for six months. I am concerned about the arguments, because that proposal sounds somewhat different from the suggestion that he is trying to accommodate the City in order to advance the Bill's progress.
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I should explain to the hon. Member that we are not discussing the proposition to which he refers and that it is not the practice of the House to do so. We are discussing the amendments whose numbers were read out at the beginning of the debate.
Mr. McDonnell: My hon. Friend is confused because of the numbering of the amendments on the amendment paper. Amendment No. 7 seeks to introduce a business electoral college. The establishment of the overall electoral college of businesses, employees and so on flows from that proposal.
Mr. Barnes: I should like to clarify the position. When I entered the Chamber, I collected an amendment paper for 2 May, the first page of which is numbered as page 201. Amendment No. 7 states that on further consideration of the Bill--
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. I have already ruled on this matter. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that the number 7 appears on the amendment paper in parallel with the name of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) and refers to what follows. All that appears above is a motion that is not part of the group of amendments.
I do not want to speak in too much detail at this stage, but I should like to set out the principles that underlie the amendments--I shall, of course, explain their detailed implications in due course--and then argue a justification for their adoption on the basis of addressing the key concerns of each of the main political parties in the House. I hope fairly swiftly to send all hon. Members skipping through the Lobby in support of the
The Bill is basically undemocratic: that is the difficulty with it and the ground on which many of us oppose it. It undermines the principle of one person, one vote. The amendments maintain that principle at least in part. I accept that the City corporation does not want to give up its undemocratic--some would say anti-democratic--franchise, which allows for a business vote. In the Bill and the amendments, that vote is based on a property qualification, which runs contrary to every other method of democratic election in this country.
The amendments try to take account of the strong argument that has been presented in favour of maintaining the business vote. It has been argued that it is justified by the intensity of business activity in a small area. The City is a business district and I therefore accept that, to make progress, we need to create a structure of governance for that area that includes a business vote. However, I also want that structure to reflect the rights and responsibilities of the other stakeholders in the City of London corporation area.
The amendments define the stakeholders as the employees--the workers--and the residents. I am trying to develop an argument that enables us to reach a compromise and leads to a swift passage for the Bill.
Mr. Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North): I have followed the debate with interest on previous occasions. My hon. Friend used the word "compromise" often this evening. Will he reassure me that he has not devised a compromise too far and that he is not conceding too much to those who take a different view from my hon. Friend and me about providing a genuinely democratic system for the City of London in future?
Mr. McDonnell: If the franchise is to be reformed, the City corporation has made it clear in statements to the House and through the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, who sponsors the Bill, that there are some steps that it will not take. It will not relinquish the business vote or allow an amendment that provides for a straight residential vote or a combination of residential and employees' votes. In tabling amendments to provide for an electoral college, I am searching for a compromise that takes account of the three elements in the stakeholder society.
Mr. Dismore: Under my hon. Friend's proposals, would residents have at least half the votes so that their votes would equal those of businesses and employees, or would each group have a third of the votes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) suggested?
Mr. McDonnell: As we develop the debate, my hon. Friend will realise that I am trying to introduce a mechanism whereby the residents will have a permanent majority over the combined votes of business and employees. That would provide some protection for the residents.
Mr. Dismore: I am reassured by that. However, my hon. Friend said that he was trying to provide for all the stakeholders in the City. One group--customers--has been left out of the equation. If we use modern parlance and "stakeholder", customers constitute one of the most important groups. When we discuss railways or the tube, we hear about customers. However, the electorial college that my hon. Friend proposes makes no provision for the consumers of City services.