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Mr. Corbyn: I understand that point. However, in the Minister's defence, I imagine that she would reply that the Government could do no more than ask the promoters to provide a certificate of compatibility because at that stage Ministers would have no power to secure compliance. I believe that the procedures of the House will have to be changed to ensure compatibility with the convention. Those who have been Members of this place for longer than me may confirm this: it could not be done by ministerial request, because there is a separation of ministerial and parliamentary powers. Although I welcome the Minister's view and her intention, one would assume that the Government's support for a private Bill would be dependent on that request having been met. That is all that the Government would have the power to do; they would have no power to enforce the request or to require it as a duty--only to make it. It would be incumbent on the House to alter its own procedures in that matter.
Mr. McDonnell: Before anyone is misled on this point, let us be clear about the fact that the Government are asking the promoter to comply. If the promoter does not comply, there is no power of enforcement--no action can be taken to prevent the promotion of legislation in the House; it would still be for the House to decide whether it went ahead. All that we shall receive is a statement from a Minister to the effect that the promoters have refused to adhere to the procedure; there is no duty--it is only a request.
Mr. Corbyn: As the Minister would be making a request--I take the burden of the parliamentary answer that we have received to be that the Government are now making that request of the promoters--in the event of the promoters' not acceding to that request, it seems to me incumbent on the House to refuse the Bill and to support the new clause, which would require that degree of compatibility.
I return to the point that I was trying to make earlier. There is a problem in relation to the compliance of the Bill with the human rights legislation. That problem arises from the proposed electoral system and method of voting proposed. The Bill would give corporate entities an unfair advantage over individual citizens, whereas the convention specifically says that the basis of any democratic process must be the individual person, voting secretly in a free and fair election. I am not convinced that a vote given to a corporation, albeit in some cases shared among the head office employees of that corporation, amounts to what one would consider to be a normal free and fair election.
Mr. Corbyn: Not only does the City have an influence on local services by virtue of its proximity, its planning decisions and all that goes with them, such as traffic generation and employment, but, following the break-up of the Greater London council, the City has enormous influence on large parts of London through its housing policy and the estates that it owns or the large areas of open space--such as Hampstead heath--that it manages on behalf of the people of London. There is a question there of wider accountability.
The Bill is fundamentally flawed. In a sense, the House has already expressed a view on the question of compatibility with human rights legislation because, by refusing to pass a closure motion, it has enabled the debate to continue. Thus it is essential that the debate go its full course; that we hear from the promoter of the Bill, if he may speak again, about the concerns about applicability; and, above all, that my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock should have an opportunity to address the House once again in reply to the debate.
The House has had a long record of electoral reform. The great Reform Act of 1832 was designed to get rid of the non-existent voters. Subsequent pieces of legislation all moved in the direction of the individual secret ballot. We have here the opposite of that: the canonisation of the idea of the business vote. I am worried that, if we pass the Bill in its current form, we shall end up promoting the idea of a business vote in future. Any other local government area that had a mind to do so could then promote that principle by means of the private legislation procedure.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): I hope that my hon. Friend is not naive enough--I know that he is not--to believe that it is possible that this gang of people in the City will accept the idea that the Bill has got to be compatible with the human rights legislation, and will say, "Oh dear, oh dear; we have just heard that we must make it fit and proper and in accordance with human rights." The last thing that these people, who are fiddling the vote left, right and centre, will do is say, "We had better incorporate human rights legislation." It will be done only by getting rid of the Bill and telling them exactly what they have to do.
Mr. Corbyn: In my view, the compatibility of the Bill with the human rights principle of one member, one vote would be as extraordinary as a camel passing through the eye of a needle. The suggestion that there is anything democratic about the proposals is ludicrous. I say to my hon. Friend that the convention is our defence of free and fair elections, as it is a way of trying to change the Bill. I am sure that he would agree that it is important that the House look again at the principles behind the Bill, and that new clause 2, which my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock and I tabled, gives us the opportunity to do so.
Mr. Skinner: In trying to get the question of the human rights compatibility within the ambit of the Bill, my hon. Friend has not mentioned that there is a body of people--I think it is called the Westminster Foundation for Democracy--whose job it is to spend a lot of taxpayers' money trotting around the world, telling eastern European countries how to get democracy in the future. Has he told any of its members that their work is being undermined? Has he called on them to say, "Look here, this Bill is not compatible with human rights, but you're going across there, telling them what a wonderful set-up we've got in Britain."? We have got democracy coming out of our earholes in the House of Commons; we have got none in the Lords, and we have now got the business vote in the City of London. Frankly, I am not against undermining the foundation's work, because it is a great big junket, but how on earth can the Government say that they are teaching the east Europeans how to be democratic, while pushing through this tinpot Bill, which is not even compatible with human rights legislation? There are four questions to answer.
Mr. Corbyn: I understood that there were rather more than four questions to answer. I am sure that my hon. Friend is not trying to undermine the work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy--nothing could be further from his mind than that. However, for £1.80, it could go to the City of London and examine the process, or it could come into the Chamber to do so. That would represent the cheapest possible examination of democratic procedures anywhere in the world.
There are some important points in what my hon. Friend says, one of which is that if the House were to pass the Bill and if it were enacted, any citizen could object and take out a case concerning his or her denial of human rights or the discrimination in favour of corporations under the Bill. They would take their case through the British courts and, ultimately, to Strasbourg. At that point, the Attorney-General, as the Government's chief Law Officer, would have to decide the Government's position because he or she would have to represent the British Government in that process. What possible defence could they offer for the Bill? How would they explain the curious nature of events in which, as a result of an accident of dates, even though this country was a signatory to the convention, because the Human Rights Act 1998 had not been passed, no statement of compatibility was proposed? The Government have said that they will request compatibility in future. It is presumably up to the House to change its Standing Orders to ensure that all legislation, including private Bills, must be compatible with the European convention on human rights.
The Bill's sponsor said in an intervention that he was confident that the leading counsel's opinion he had received was that the Bill was compatible. I do not know who that leading counsel was. I have no idea what were the terms of the request made to the leading counsel. Apparently, we shall not be told of the content of leading