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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: 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.
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: 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 concernedbearing in mind the huge amount of technology availablecannot 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.
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 pointone that I was often induced to support by the City corporationto 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.
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.