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Mr. Corbyn: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I notice that you said that fewer than 100 Members had voted in the Division and that the debate must continue. That is absolutely right. However, we seem to have been here before with this particular miracle number of 99. Can you assure me that you are satisfied that the figure is correct and that someone is not about to run into the Chamber with a piece of paper saying that a hanging chad has been found in the Aye Lobby and that, by some miracle, a Jeb Bush lookalike will announce that 100 Members actually voted? Are you satisfied that we are in order in continuing this interesting debate with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell)?
Mrs. Jacqui Lait (Beckenham): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I reassure the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) that I personally counted everyone through the Lobby? The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) did not disagree with my figure at any stage.
Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North): Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I assure you that as I was in no way involved in the telling, it is almost certain that the figure is accurate?
Mr. Dismore: Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I can certainly confirm what my fellow Teller, the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mrs. Lait), said. I watched very closely--particularly when we got into the 90s--to make sure that the count was accurate. I absolutely confirm that 99 is the correct figure.
Let me proceed with my description of the amendments by returning to discussion of the employees electoral college. An argument has been made by the City corporation and by hon. Members that a college of the composition as determined in amendment No. 59 is not feasible because it is not practical to construct a register of employees eligible to vote for the members of the college. They also argue that such a register is not verifiable, is too costly or is too cumbersome to construct. That case has been advanced during informal discussions and formal debate in both the Committee and the Chamber.
I find that argument extraordinary, and want to confront it now and knock it out of court. Let us grind our heels in the face of it. Numerous mechanisms exist not only to record the employment of individuals by a particular company, but to be used by statutory bodies on a regular basis to effect the implementation of laws enacted by Parliament.
To comply with existing legislation, every firm will have a record of its employees--its work force--for national insurance and taxation purposes, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon referred earlier. Every firm has a record of its employees for health and safety purposes. In addition, many have a record of the trade union membership of their employees. Those records are readily available, and the construction of an employees' register would be no more difficult, costly or cumbersome to establish. Recent legislation makes it possible to draw on such information for industrial relations matters and other purposes.
Mr. Dismore: Is there a qualification for the length of employment, in the same way as someone has to be employed for a certain number of months before he receives the employment rights that entitle him to redundancy pay? Does my hon. Friend envisage that an employee would have voting rights from day one, which is when many employment rights apply, or would the employee have to work in the City for a given period before acquiring them?
Mr. McDonnell: Amendments on qualifying bodies and the qualifying period relate to the length of time for which a business or director has a connection with the City. Indeed, the City corporation is covered by provisions on such connections. My firm opinion is that employees should have rights from day one.
Mr. McDonnell: Any employee is eligible for registration under the scheme, including part-time workers. A growing number of people work part time in the City. My hon. Friend mentioned cleaners and other workers. They would be open for registration.
The registers demonstrate the facility to construct a register of employees. Even if the records did not exist or were not accessible, it would not be beyond the wit of employees to compile a register within their firm of people who were eligible to vote. That could be organised by trade unions, as was mentioned earlier. I am sure that they would assist in the role of registration.
The registration list would be open to verification or investigation by the City corporation's town clerk on demand, or as a result of a challenge by any individual or qualifying body, similar to the way in which the business electoral college could be challenged.
Mr. Hopkins: I am concerned about the assembly of the register of employee voters. In normal elections it can be difficult to persuade people to put their names forward to be electors. There may be a large number of employees who would not bother to do so, and that might undermine the whole democratic basis of the elections and effectively invalidate them. If only a tiny minority of people chose to become electors, the situation would be like that in
Mr. McDonnell: I do not believe that voluntary registration by employees would be a problem. It imposes no burdens on the person registering and would be seen as an entitlement. Many people would consider it an honour to be registered as an elector in the City of London corporation area.
Mr. Tony Benn: It has been strongly argued that the whole basis of the Bill, as promoted by the right hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Mr. Brooke), is the unique nature of the City which arises from the nature of the work that goes on there. That being so, is there any reason why retired workers should not have a vote? Someone who has retired will have retained the expertise that he acquired at work. As I understand it, my hon. Friend is trying to move from a catchment-based to an experience-based electorate, so has he given any consideration to the possibility that retired workers should be entitled to put their experience at the disposal of those who are elected to serve in the wards?
Mr. McDonnell: It is interesting that my right hon. Friend raises that point, because I have based the employees electoral college on the TUC model for the registration of unions and individual memberships, which was mentioned earlier. The trade union movement has debated whether retired members should not only be able to maintain their membership in the retired members section, but have an entitlement to a full vote in all trade union activities. Interestingly, trade unions have dealt with that problem in different ways.
I have not addressed that matter here, but it is open to debate. As my right hon. Friend suggested, it is clear that there will be a need, particularly as we move beyond the fixed retirement age, for greater flexibility to enable people to participate in democratic structures, especially within the City corporation. That needs to be considered, but I have narrowly defined an employee as someone who has a formal contract with a particular firm and is therefore registered with it for taxation and national insurance purposes.
The amendment does not place a duty on the individual to register, but provides that the employee can exercise his right to register. That addresses the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins).