On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. On today's agenda, a motion from the Prime Minister has been allowed that the City of London (Ward Elections) Bill may proceed to any hour. I thought that, except in the severest need, the House had decided against all-night sittings as part of its modernisation programme. It is also clear from the agenda that we are not even able to debate the Prime Minister's proposal to force the Bill through tonight.
Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you confirm that, or investigate whether the motion has been placed on the agenda at the direct request of the City corporation, because I have evidence to prove that it has? On repeated occasions we have been informed that this is a private Bill and not a Government Bill, yet the Prime Minister's name is now associated with it. What status does the Bill have? Has the Prime Minister made any declarations of interest in relation to the Bill?
Mr. Deputy Speaker, will you confirm that I have raised my concerns with the Speaker about the procedures associated with the Bill, including the fact that I have been offered inducements to drop my opposition to it? Can you also confirm the last occasion on which this procedure was used? I believe that it was 1987. Will you reconsider the procedure for private Bills, to prevent this abuse of the House by the Prime Minister? The Prime Minister is taking away one of the last few mechanisms by which a Back Bencher can exert influence on a promoter of a Bill—that is, to delay the legislation to ensure that amendments are considered seriously.
Even if we were to go through the night, none of us is willing to put at risk tomorrow's business, which is a debate on the middle east and one of the most important issues facing the world today. I give you notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I advise Labour Members to withdraw from the debate, because I believe that the process has been corrupted and tainted by the Prime Minister's intervention. A number of Bills have been allowed through the House—this one in particular—when votes have been sold to business friends who have donated to both parties. It is a corruption of the worst kind to debase Parliament in that way.
I am sure that the hon. Member realises that the Chair cannot possibly comment on certain matters. The reasons why a business motion appears on the Order Paper cannot be questioned by the Chair: it is there, and that is the fact we are dealing with. It is certainly not without precedent for a business motion to be employed in the course of private legislation.
As for the House considering its methods of dealing with private business, it is always open to the House to take an initiative to examine procedures, just as is happening over public business on the initiative of the Modernisation Committee. I do not think that I can substantially add to what the hon. Gentleman has said.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I press you on the point that we investigate the communications that have taken place between the City corporation and the Prime Minister on this matter, in relation to what representations have been made with the effect that he has placed this motion on the agenda tonight, any financial links with the corporation of London, any businesses that will gain votes as a result of this legislation, if it goes through, and any links with both the main political parties as a result?
The nature of the hon. Gentleman's complaint is such that, if he has evidence to substantiate it or believes that the matter needs to be investigated, it would be more a matter for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that the Chair cannot question why a particular motion is on the Order Paper. The Chair must deal with the business that it finds on the Order Paper for the day.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can I therefore have a response in due course to my point that the Bill should now become a Government Bill because the motion is in the name of the Prime Minister? In a series of debates in the House, we have been informed that this is a private Bill that has no association with the Government and no Minister in charge, yet the Prime Minister has put his name to the motion to secure the Bill tonight. Can we have a response from the Prime Minister today, if he can be brought to the House, to explain his motivation for putting his name to the motion; or can we consider the procedure whereby we no longer define as private business that with which Ministers are closely associated?
The status of the Bill is unchanged by the appearance on the Order Paper of that business motion. There have been occasions in the past when a private Bill has ceased its passage and has reappeared as a Government Bill, but that does not apply in this case.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can we therefore clarify and investigate the relationship between the City corporation and No. 10, particularly in respect of communications with regard to this Bill and related matters, such as the funding of the dome by the City corporation or the substantial investment by the City corporation in terms of the wining and dining of successive Ministers and of Opposition spokesmen and Back Benchers? Can we investigate that relationship to establish whether the Bill has been tainted by unfair inducements?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is a new experience for me and perhaps for many other hon. Members who may have been here as long as I have—five years. This is obviously a Bill that now has Government backing. Would it not have been in order, when it became clear that the Government backed what is essentially a private Bill, for the Speaker to advise the Government to come clean at an early stage and make it Government business, which would have saved the House and many hon. Members like me a great deal of time spent debating the Bill in this Chamber, in the belief that it was genuinely a private Bill, and in debating fundamental issues of democracy?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In view of the fact that my hon. Friend John McDonnell has made several allegations of inducements having been made, if that were true—I hesitate to say that any hon. Member is dishonourable, but nevertheless the suspicion exists that if there have been inducements, hon. Members may be influenced—would it not be right, until investigations have taken place, for us to adjourn on this Bill?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will maintain his hesitation before making such a suggestion about right hon. and hon. Members. There is now a clear procedure, as we have a Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, as to where any hon. Member who has cause to believe that anything improper has taken place should direct such a complaint.
Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I repeat the point that I made earlier. I shall withdraw from this debate because I have been offered inducements. I believe that the process has been corrupted as a result of the Prime Minister's intervention today to ensure that this Bill goes through. It is meant to be private business, not Government business, but the Prime Minister has personally intervened to undermine any prospect of the Back Bencher exerting influence, when it should be the Back Bencher's right to exert influence on private business. This process is tainted and corrupted.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I want to place on record my sincere view that this is a very bad day for Parliament. It makes a charade of our law-making process and it is disgraceful that the Government machine and the Minister can sit here and railroad through legislation that, in an ordinary, free debating environment, would not get on the statute book. This Bill extends the property franchise, which, almost without fail, Labour Members have opposed on other occasions when they have been on the hustings seeking election to this place.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you advise me and right hon. and hon. Members who are present whether there is a procedure that we can adopt that would stop this debate proceeding tonight and allow some of the serious allegations that have been made to be properly investigated? Failure to do that will taint whatever happens at the outcome of this debate. Does a procedure exist that will allow us to stop what we are doing at this moment and return to it when the issues that have been raised have been properly investigated by the relevant authorities?
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think I heard you say at one point that there were precedents for the way in which this procedure was being dealt with tonight. That is true because it was used several times in the course of the 18 years that the Tories were in power. What saddens me is that, previously, when private business was extended during the night, including the Eastbourne Harbour Bill and all the rest, it was not about property rights or democracy. There were also several imported coal harbour Bills, which we managed to hold up for several years. Although they were important and were debated through the night, the truth is that they were not of the same dimension as this Bill, which we have debated not just tonight but for three years since it was first introduced.
This Bill is about people's voting rights and about extending power to corporations. It is close to the hearts of those of us who have fought for democratic rights over the years. There should therefore be no comparison with those ports Bills—which we opposed throughout the night—as bad as they were, and with the Eastbourne Harbour Bill, which was a disgrace, and for which Mrs. Thatcher stayed up all night and kept the Tories here as well. I can go through the gamut of things that occurred at that time, but this Bill is about the rights of people to vote or not to vote, which is a disgrace. This Bill should have remained a private Bill and should not have had extended to it the powers of the Government. That is why this is an extremely sad day.