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Mr. Barnes: Is not voluntary registration a dangerous precedent? In this country's election system generally, it is obligatory to register if one meets certain conditions. To mix up the different elements of the college so that some people, as residents, would have a duty to register and others could voluntarily do so would create a dangerous precedent.
Mr. McDonnell: My hon. Friend, who is an expert on electoral systems, has over two decades developed ideas for electoral registration reform, and I appreciate his point. I am trying to argue that we are not placing a duty on the individual. However, he is right to say that this is different from every other registration arrangement for local or
Mr. Skinner: Who will pay for the elections? Will there be free distribution of literature? What about the homeless people in the City? As a result of the efforts of my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), we have just legislated to enable homeless people to vote for the first time. Is my hon. Friend telling me that, in 2001, he is proposing a system that will give a vote to all the homeless people who hang around the City in the naive belief that people with a lot of money will give them a handout--although, of course, they will not? Will homeless people get a vote? By the way, will the Opposition get Short money? My hon. Friend has to think the whole thing through, otherwise people will not buy it.
Mr. McDonnell: May I deal with the question of homeless people and knock the matter on the head? In the residential vote, residents--people with a residential qualification who live within the area--will be entitled to vote. Arthur Scargill, for instance, has a flat in the Barbican--socialist that he is, he would be able to register to vote. People sleeping rough on the streets of the City of London would be eligible to vote as residents of the City. Legislative changes promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) enable rough sleepers to register to vote elsewhere in the country and, similarly, they would be able to vote in the City. That would overcome the problem.
With respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, the matter that he raised does not relate to the amendment. With regard to funding the whole system, as I have said in previous debates, City cash available to the City of London corporation is never audited and is never published in accounts. It should be audited in published accounts to pay for the new electoral system.
Mr. Wareing: I look forward to the day when Arthur Scargill becomes Lord Mayor of London. I understand how the provision would work within geographical boundaries at a by-election. However, what provision would be made in the event of one of the employee representatives in the electoral college passing away?
Mr. McDonnell: The electoral college would come into being prior to the City of London corporation election. Under the amendment, the employees' electoral college would meet to elect voters who would eventually vote for the City of London corporation. Because the college would be elected by groups of employees within occupational constituencies, it would be open to a group of employees to elect a replacement within the relevant time scale. That would be the norm under any electoral system that is established. There would be one meeting of electoral college voters who would then determine the voters who elect the corporation.
Mr. McDonnell: I believe that an exception should be made for the City of London corporation because it is awash with money. No one can get their hands on that money and no one knows where the City cash is tucked away. It is treated as a private fund inherited from mediaeval times and is not audited publicly. In my view, the amendment could be a lever that opens those books for inspection.
Mr. Tony Benn: On the question of money, it is a principle of the residential vote that residents pay council tax, so they get represented. There is no taxation without representation. Does my hon. Friend's amendment introduce the idea of representation without taxation? Surely, there must be mutuality. If somebody is entitled to vote in an election, he or she should also contribute by paying council tax. As I understand it, the business electoral college proposed by my hon. Friend does not lay upon electors with the right to vote any personal responsibility for council tax, which is a significant breach of the basic electoral principle.
Mr. McDonnell: It does not breach that principle because two thirds of local government expenditure comes from national Government. The businesses therefore have a right to exercise their vote at the local level as well, because of their contribution through the business rates to the national coffers, which is distributed down to the City corporation and others. The individual employees contribute through national taxation, which funds local government by two thirds. In some ways, the system of employees electoral colleges could root out some of the rotten borough corrupt practices which continue to be reported and alleged. It would give greater transparency to business and employee registers and would assist in overcoming the registration of voters at accommodation addresses. I shall not go into the detail of the reports of the corrupt practices that need to be eradicated, but I refer hon. Members to the City of London and Dockland Times of 22 May last year.
Mr. Dismore: My hon. Friend spoke about the people elected to the college casting their vote at a meeting. Can he explain how those arrangements fit in with the new arrangements for postal and proxy voting? The regulations are, of course, much more liberal now. Can he also tell me whether employees voting for their representative in the college will be entitled to a personal or proxy vote, as that raises certain questions, and whether members of the college will be entitled to a personal or proxy vote?
Mr. McDonnell: The same regulations that pertain to national and local government personal and proxy votes would pertain to votes within the electoral colleges and to the votes exercised by the voters elected from those electoral colleges, which go on to elect the City corporation.
Mr. Hopkins: Before my hon. Friend goes on, I am concerned about elections within the employee's constituency and the employer's constituency, and I am worried about my hon. Friend's comments about rotten boroughs. One of the mechanisms that makes our democracy work is the party system. If people do not know candidates as individuals, at least they know which political party they represent. Does my hon. Friend envisage political parties being given rights to campaign in both the employers group and the employees group to make the system meaningful and democratic, so that those voting would understand who the candidates were?
Mr. McDonnell: There are problems relating to the scale of the election. I understand that. The issues must be addressed, and that could be done in the review report for which the legislation provides. The report would come before the House. My hon. Friend may wish to take up the matter in three years, when my further amendment takes effect and provides for that report.
Mr. Skinner: How does my hon. Friend propose to deal with the problem of voter apathy? Perhaps he will tell us all the answer. If we crack the problem in the City of London, we have a chance everywhere else.
Mr. McDonnell: There is no problem of voter apathy in the City of London. The measure would provide the opportunity to serve in a form of local government that controls vast sums, exercises massive powers, beyond some of the powers of existing local councils and London boroughs, and provides possibly the greatest opportunity for municipal travel in all of local government. I do not believe that there will be any shortage of candidates coming forward to stand for election or any shortage of voters.
Mr. McDonnell: The amendments do not deal with the payment of candidates. The payment of councillors elected to the City corporation is not covered by the Bill, but I shall try to provide my hon. Friend with the information after the debate.