HC Deb 13 February 1985 vol 73 cc414-5

Question proposed, That this schedule be the First Schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Waller

Part III of schedule 1 deals with absent voting at municipal elections in the City of London. This is the only part of a complicated Bill which is related to an area which has quite different elections from the rest of the country. It is important that hon. Members should be aware that the City of London corporation, a body much involved with pomp and tradition, is a significant planning authority. If one considers the number of electors in the city, it is almost the most important planning authority in the country. Enormously important decisions are made by that authority. Following the abolition of the GLC it will become even more important. It will become a unitary authority.

Why is absent voting in the City of London so important? It is particularly important because many of those who are entitled to vote in elections to the City corporation do not reside or work in the city. Any partnership which has premises in the City of London can provide for each of those partners a vote for every ward in the city in which those premises are situated.

Mr. Peter Bruinvels

As a freeman of the City of London myself, I think that my hon. Friend will agree with me that it is inequitable that a partner in, for instance, a firm of chartered accountants may nominate certain wards in which to vote and thereby prolong an unfair voting practice.

Mr. Waller

My hon. Friend points to an important issue. Many firms have offices in several different wards. One well-known firm of chartered accountants with approximately 65 partners situated in various parts of the United Kingdom has premises in four different wards in the City of London. Many firms with more than 100 partners have offices in the city. I refer to partnerships, because companies are not able to endow their directors with votes. Sixteen firms have premises in more than one ward. The only requirement to qualify for a vote is that one should pay £10 in rates per annum. Therefore, one could have an entitlement to a vote in the City of London elections if the firm for which one worked had a car parking space.

The issue becomes more serious when one realises that some wards have as many as several thousand electors and others have as few as 30. It has been calculated that, by the expenditure of approximately £12,500 in the payment of rates in one year in carefully selected wards, it would be possible to take control of the City of London corporation and be responsible for all the important decisions made in that area. I do not suggest that that will happen in a conspiratorial way, but sooner or later doubts will arise about elections in the City of London for the reasons that I have put forward. It is therefore important, before it is too late—

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I am finding it a little difficult to relate the remarks of the hon. Gentleman to schedule 1 to the Bill, which is fairly narrow and technical. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman can link his remarks to schedule 1.

Mr. Waller

A large proportion of those who vote in the City of London do so by post. As schedule 1, part III, is concerned with postal votes in the City of London, I consider this to be an important part of the Bill which has so far attracted too little attention. I hope that, by speaking tonight, I may have started an extended debate.

Dr. Marek

I support the sense of what the hon. Gentleman said about the City of London. I hope that some hon. Members will turn their attention to this matter, and table appropriate amendments on Report.

Question put and agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

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