previous to the House coming to any decision on the address, in answer to the speech of the Prince Regent, and particularly on that part of it which related to the late disturbances, wished to read over so much of a petition, which he held in his hand, as he thought would suffice to express the sentiments of those from whom it was presented, on the subject of a reform in parliament. The Petition was signed, as he was informed, by 15,700 inhabitants of Bristol and its vicinity. He then proceeded to read part of the petition, which set forth the present distress of the country, the increase of paupers and beggars, the want of employment for industry, and the misery which resulted from this state of things. Under such circumstances, it went on to declare, that it was in vain to pretend to relieve the sufferers by giving them soup, while half their earnings were taken from them by the enormous taxation under which the country groaned, for the support of sinecure placemen, pensioners, and an insatiable civil list. To remove the evil, it was necessary to look to the causes of it, and no adequate relief, it insisted, could be afforded, but by a reform in parliament. While the noble lord was reading, some noise having occurred, he took occasion to call the attention of the House to the petition now in his hand, and declared it to be absolutely necessary that the House should hear the complaints which it contained. Whatever some gentlemen might think of the present aspect of our affairs, he considered the times to be most por- 79 tentous. Actuated by no feeling but the love of his country, which had ever animated him, he thought he did but his duty in bringing the prayer of the petitioners under the notice of the House, and he trusted silence would be maintained while it was read.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
spoke to order. He believed the course taken by the noble lord to be at variance with the rules and with the practice of that House. A member having a petition to present had a right to state the substance of it; it was then for the House to determine whether it would receive it or not; and if received, it was afterwards read by the clerk.
§ The Speaker
said, unquestionably the right hon. gentleman was right as to the practice of the House. The member presenting a petition had a right to state the substance, and when received, it was read by the clerk; but in strict order, the member had no right to read it when presenting it to the House.
said, he had read part of it, because no description of its substance that he could have offered would, in his opinion, have given a proper idea of its contents. He had often remarked, that when petitions were presented which did not accord with the views of those who were in the habit of voting with ministers, it was common to oppose the reading of them by making a noise in the House, which had frequently been so great, that sitting on that bench he could not hear them. On presenting a petition like the present, signed by 15,700 persons, he was anxious to call the attention of the House to the subject matter of it, as he thought it was of some importance that they should know what these petitioners required before those measures were determined on, which it might be proposed to found on that part of the Prince Regent's Speech to which he had referred. He had on the present occasion attempted to read the petition himself, because the clerks (without any blame to them), had in many cases not read such petitions with a voice sufficiently audible to obtain that attention which they ought to receive.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
apprehended, that if there were any irregularity or disorder in the House, it was the province of the chair to correct it, and that it did not belong to any individual member to address to that House what was palled an admonition.
§ The Speaker
expressed a hope, that after the admonition now a second time given, there would be no recurrence of a similar breach of order on the part of the noble lord.
after expressing a hope that the clerk would read the petition audibly and distinctly, and that the House would attend to it, challenged any person to produce an instance in which the slightest wish to subvert the constitution, or to promote riot, was expressed at any meeting to petition upon the subject of parliamentary reform. He was authorised to say that no such instance had occurred. At the meeting at Bristol, from which proceeded the petition he now held in his hand, no riot or symptom of riot appeared except on the part of a police officer, who endeavoured to create a riot. Then as to the meeting at Spa-fields, it was notorious that the riot which took place on the day that meeting was held, had no connexion whatever with the meeting, but resulted from an assemblage of such desperate characters as were always to be met with in a great town, and who had collected to witness an execution at the Old Bailey. The riot was to be attributed to those men, accompanied, no doubt, by some starving seamen—yes, by seamen driven to desperation by dire want in that country whose battles they had gallantly fought.
§ Mr. Webber
called the noble lord to order, observing that he was wandering from the question. As to the petition, he could not doubt, from what the noble lord had read, and from the strain in which he had indulged, that it was inconsistent with decorum.
§ The Speaker
observed, that when a member rose to order, it was his duty to confine himself to the point of order.
The petition was ordered to be brought up. On the motion, that it be read,
referring to the order of proceeding upon the subject of petitions, remarked, that the reading of any petition by the member presenting it could not regularly take place, for this obvious reason, that the first motion was, that the petition should be brought up, which motion must be agreed to before the second motion could be put that the petition should be read. He adverted to this course of proceeding in order to guard against the recurrence of any such irregularity as the House had witnessed.
§ The petition was then read. On the motion that it do lie on the table,81
§ Mr. Protheroe
said, that not having seen the names of those who signed this petition, he could not tell from whom it came. There was undoubtedly an advertisement for a meeting at Bristol for the purpose of petitioning upon the subject of parliamentary reform, and a meeting did accordingly take place, but of whom that meeting consisted he could not say. He could however aver, that not one of his constituents ever asked him to support this petition, and he could also add his assurance that such petition did not convey the sentiments of the city of Bristol.
§ Mr. Hart Davis
expressed his conviction, that not one-hundreth part of the people of Bristol attended the meeting from which this petition purported to come. The feeling indeed excited at Bristol by the advertisement of this meeting might easily be judged of from this fact, that as soon as the advertisement appeared, no less than 1,200 citizens voluntarily stood forward to act as constables for the preservation of the peace. Whatever opinions might exist among the electors of Bristol upon the subject of parliamentary reform, he could confidently assert, that those opinions bore no relation to the sentiments of the meeting from which this petition emanated. He could say with his colleague, that he knew not of whom the meeting alluded to was composed, but this he knew, that this petition was not to be considered that of the city of Bristol, and that it did not express the sentiments of his constituents.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that how far this petition was from being that of the people of Bristol, the House, after what had just been stated, would be able to judge for itself; but as it was the petition of a public meeting, he could not see that it would be improper to lay it on their table. Some of the topics which it embraced might not have been well introduced, but, at the same time, he thought there was nothing so disrespectful to the House—so greatly transgressing its rules, as to call upon them to reject it.
§ The petition was ordered to lie on the table.
then presented from the township of Quick, in the parish of Saddleworih, in Yorkshire. The petition was read, setting forth,
"That the petitioners have a. full and immovable conviction, a conviction which they believe to be universal throughout the kingdom, that the House doth not, in 82 any constitutional or rational sense, represent the nation; that, when the people have ceased to be represented, the constitution is subverted; that taxation without representation is a state of slavery; that war, as a cause of excessive taxes, being the harvest of those who live by corruption, the cause and character of the war which commenced in 1793, the petitioners now conceive to be, by the enlightened part of the community, well understood; that, as the tremendous tempest of war is not to be staid at the bidding of those in whose mad and wicked counsels it had its origin, so it is probable that the contrivers of the late war did not intend the magnitude and duration it attained, which magnitude and duration, by the portentous calamities now found in their train, are fast opening the eyes of a deluded nation to the evil deeds of its authors; that now these wicked rulers themselves, if not infatuated, must know that either that usurpation which has divested the people of their representation must be for ever put down, or the liberty of England must perish, and the security of property be annihilated; that there is no property in that which any person or persons, any power or authority, can take from the people without their consent; that the scourging of a taxation without representation is arrived at a severity too harassing and vexatious, too intolerable and degrading, to be longer endured without being unceasingly resisted by all possible means warranted by the constitution, until redress be obtained; that, in such a condition of their country, the petitioners are shocked to behold contending factions alike guilty of their country's wrongs, alike forgetful of her rights, mocking the public patience with repeated, protracted, and disgusting debates on questions of refinement in the complicated and abstruse science of taxation, as if in such refinements, and not in a reformed representation, as if in a consolidated corruption, and not in a renovated constitution, relief were to be found; that, in the discussions which they have witnessed, the petitioners see nought but what hath a direct tendency to place the English people in a situation in which the unrelenting lash of unconstitutional taxation may in all time to come be laid on to the extent of human endurance; that, instead of such a course, the petitioners hold it self-evident that there are not any human means of redressing the people's 83 wrongs, or composing their distracted minds, or of preventing the subversion of liberty, and the establishment of despotism, unless by calling the collected wisdom and virtue of the community into council by the election of a free parliament; wherefore, considering that through the usurpation of a borough faction, and other causes, the people have been put even out of a condition to consent to taxes, and considering also that, until their sacred rights of election shall be restored, no free parliament can have existence, the petitioners pray, that the House will without delay pass a law for putting the aggrieved and much-wronged people in possession of their undoubted rights to representation co-extensive with taxation, to an equal distribution throughout the community of such representation, and to parliaments of a continuance according to the constitution, namely, not exceeding one year."
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the same considerations which induced him to accede to the admission of the last petition determined him to oppose the one just read. For the latter, while it contained no distinct proposition proper to be brought under the cognizance of parliament, presented a direct libel—a gross attack upon the privileges, the conduct and character of that House.
declared that he had not read this petition, nor could he hear a word of it from the noise that prevailed while the clerk was reading it.
The Attorney General
said, that the House ought certainly to suppose, that the noble lord had read the petition, and had found nothing in it wrong, before he presented it. He himself had heard it distinctly, and he could state without difficulty, that it was, from the beginning to the end of it, a contrived, deliberate, and determined libel on the House, and its privileges.
§ The petition being again read,
§ Mr. Brougham
said, that with great respect, he could by no means concur with his learned friend, that this petition ought to be rejected. His learned friend had asserted pretty confidently, that this petition contained a deliberate libel upon the privileges of that House—to which privileges, in point of fact, it had no reference whatever. It dwelt much upon the distresses of the country, which were notorious—which were, indeed, admitted in the Speech from the throne. It prayed 84 the House to take these distresses into consideration, and to adopt that which the petitioners conceived the best remedy, namely, a reform of the representation of the people in that House. This petition was certainly not drawn up in that becoming moderate judicious manner in which the learned gentleman, who was one of the most consummate advocates in the country, could have contrived to prepare a petition upon the same subject, were he now a friend to parliamentary reform. Faults might not be so well expressed, or arguments so strongly urged by ordinary hands, but unlearned or incapable men were not to be precluded from the exercise of their right to petition that House. Such preclusion would, indeed, be inconsistent with the privileges which the constitution guaranteed to all British subjects, and it would be inconsistent also with the best interests of the country. For facility of petitioning formed a natural preventive against violence. It held out to the people an encouragement rather to petition that House in all cases for redress, than to resort to illegal or riotous measures. On the score of policy, then, as well as principle, he was an advocate for facilitating the admission of all petitions from the people. But as to the object of the petition before the House, with respect to what the petitioners professed to consider as essential to parliamentary reform, he had no hesitation in stating, that he could by no means give that object his support. He was anxious, in deed, to take this early opportunity of declaring his decided opposition to the principle of universal suffrage, because it was his entire conviction that if that measure were adopted, it would operate to destroy the parliament instead of reforming it, and to overthrow the constitution instead of amending it, while it must serve to shake the universal security of property [Hear, hear!]. He was, however, an advocate for that degree of reform which was obviously necessary to remove those deficiencies which had been mixed up by time with that glorious fabric of human wisdom, the British constitution. But he was decidedly adverse to those wild, vague, impracticable propositions (and even if practicable, so pernicious) which were so loudly talked of. Recurring to the petition before the House, he observed upon the statement of the petitioners, that the evils of the country were attributable to the inade- 85 quate representation of the people in that House, and that universal suffrage was necessary in order to cure the disease. This was their argument, and as to the alleged inconsistency of the present system of representation with the principles of the constitution, it was to be recollected that the petitioners accompanied that allegation with a declared purpose to seek the recovery of what they deemed their rights, by constitutional means, and by proceeding in a legal manner. Again, the petition referred to the conduct of contending parties in that House, in perhaps rather ungracious terms, but that reference could afford no reason why the House itself should reject such a petition. But, under such circumstances as at present afflicted the county, it would ill become that House to be so chary as to the acceptance of petitions or complaints from any part of the people. He hoped that no such fastidiousness would be allowed to prevail, and that the motion before the House would be acceded to.
observed, in the defence which the hon. and learned gentleman had made of the language of the petitioners, he had omitted to notice the consequence drawn from the statement of their constitutional objection to the present House of Commons, which he contended made it improper to receive the petition. He would admit, that without insulting the House, that mode of argument might be capable of being maintained, which was resorted to by those who were of opinion that other theories than those which govern, or which have ever governed this country, ought to form the basis of representation. But when they were told that they were, in no constitutional or rational sense, the representatives of the people; and when, having said this, the petitioners went on to assert, that the constitution had been subverted, this was no longer the language of petition; it was a direct excitement to rebellion. If we had no longer a constitution remaining, what was the language of the departed constitution? In such a case it justified resistance. The hon. and learned gentleman would agree with him in this, and concurring with him in this instance, why did he not say that he knew it was in the minds of the petitioners to restore the subverted constitution by resistance? If such language were tolerated, there was an end of the House of Commons, and of the present system of go- 86 vernment. He was disposed to throw open wide the doors of that House to the complaints of the people—e was content to receive the most insulting petitions, provided they led to no inference that practical resistance had become necessary; but they ought not to suffer those to be laid on their table as materials for discussion, which contained the direct and dangerous assertion, that the people of this country lived under no constitution. He therefore felt, that to receive the petition now before them, would be inconsistent with the dignity of that House, and with what was of more importance than the dignity of the House, the maintenance of the true and independent forms of the constitution. Whether it was true or not that the representation of the people in that House might he made better no one could have a right to say, that the sittings of a body which had existed for centuries was a usurpation, and that they had no title to meet as the representatives of the people.
expressed his surprise at such language as the House had heard from the last speaker. It was impossible indeed; not to be astonished, when a distinguished political leader, when a minister of the crown, declared, that he would not object to a petition containing the most insulting language. He would be as ready as any man to receive and attend to the petitions of the people, but the petition before the House was peculiarly objectionable. It contained comments upon the debates of that House, which were utterly inadmissible at any time or under any circumstances. The conduct of the House of Commons, with respect to the Kentish petition, which recommended that its addresses should be turned into bills of supply, evinced the feeling which had. governed, and which should always govern the House with respect to its privileges.
in explanation, said, he had not wished the House to submit to insult. All he meant was, that he should not be disposed very critically to examine the language of petitions, provided the principle on which they were founded was unobjectionable.
§ Mr. Brand
said, there was no person who felt more anxiety or more zeal than he did upon the great question of parliamentary reform—of a reform which should originate in that House. Without looking to the wild and impracticable schemes of 87 demagogues, whose interference retarded rather than accelerated reform, without looking to the vain theories of annual parliaments and universal suffrage, which were neither consistent with constitutional practice, nor known in any period of our history, he still must regret, if any thing contained in the petition should cause its rejection. On hearing it read, he confessed he doubted much whether it would be received, because he knew the practice of the House with regard to petitions of that nature. He was well aware he could not, in his place, assert that they, the House of Commons, were not the representatives of the people; but, speaking historically, he was at liberty to assert, that former parliaments did not fairly and truly represent them. Now, whatever restrictions that House might think fit to impose upon its own members, it was surely somewhat hard to require from rude and illiterate persons so much nicety of distinction, so much precision of language. He did not think the House ought to require such minute accuracy in the forms of expression to be employed by their petitioners, and therefore he was anxious to see the present petition adopted. The right hon. gentleman had expressed much indignation at the language of the petition, because it spoke of the subversion of the constitution; but he must beg leave to observe, that, not only in the language of parliament, but in common parlance, it was no unusual thing to assert that the constitution was at an end, when alluding to any particular act by which its principles were violated. Did it therefore follow, however, that resistance and rebellion were to be resorted to? Certainly that was hunting for an inference with a degree of assiduity, perfectly unnecessary on the present occasion. He lamented the course which had been adopted, because he firmly believed that a thorough constitutional reform was the great basis upon which our future glory, our future liberties, and our stability as a nation, must depend. As to the persons who had advocated the question out of doors, he considered them as the most decided enemies to reform that could be found, and he should deeply regret it, if their conduct were to disgust those who entertained more discreet and rational notions upon the subject.
said, that no one could regret more than he should, the offensive wording of the petition, if this should 88 cause it to be rejected, knowing, as he did, and as they all did, that those from whom it was presented, and who felt most on the subject, were the least capable of entering into all the nice subtleties of language. It had not struck him as it did the attorney-general, that this petition contained any thing derogatory to the dignity of the House of Commons, such as it ought to be. He hoped that the petition would be received, and that it would not be opposed from any petty objections to the wording of some parts of it.
§ Mr. Lamb
said, it was impossible for him not to explain the motives of the vote which he intended to give. He certainly agreed with the right hon. gentleman and others, that the petition was full of violence, and full of petulance, and he was as anxious as his hon. friend to take the earliest opportunity not only of testifying his disapprobation of annual parliaments and of universal suffrage, but also of every other plan of parliamentary reform, of every other scheme and device, which he had either heard or read of in the various discussions out of doors. All those plans proceeded from mistaken views of the subjects, and from misrepresentations of the ancient history of the country. In all the resolutions which had been agreed to at recent meetings, there was not one truth fairly told, nor any portion of truth introduced, which was not dashed or brewed with lies and misrepresentations. At the same time he must maintain, that no sufficient ground had been alleged, in his opinion, for rejecting the present petition. It only stated, and that not in very outrageous language, the principles and arguments of parliamentary reform. The petition which they had just received contained matter that appeared to him much more objectionable. He remembered, and the House would remember, the emphatic language of their Speaker, when he declared that their doors should be thrown wide open for the reception of petitions; but a line should be drawn. Those petitions which denied the authority of that House, and its power to make laws, ought to be rejected; but the present petitioners did not go to that extent; on the contrary, they fully admitted both those functions, in their prayer to the House that it would be pleased to pass a bill for parliamentary reform. The former petition adopted a different style, and prayed that the House would receive and pass a bill for that purpose. The bill was to be prepared out of 89 doors, and they were to sit there in order to receive and pass it. That was the popular doctrine now, with the gentlemen who had taken the subject of reform into their hands; they were to get the bill ready, and send it to the House of Commons as a mere formality necessary to give it the effect of a law. That doctrine reminded him of what took place at the end of the civil wars, when notions of a republican form of government were generally diffused. Serjeant Maynard, and some of the old reformers who still retained an attachment to constitutional forms, in the midst of all their republican zeal, proposed that a king should be elected for the purpose of giving the royal assent to bills, but that all the other functions and authority of royalty should be utterly abolished. Upon the whole, he considered the present petition as less objectionable than the former one which had been received, and therefore he hoped it would not be rejected.
§ Mr. Bathurst
said, the whole tenor of the petition maintained that that House did not, in any constitutional sense, represent the people, and that, being so constituted, by enacting laws and imposing taxes, the constitution itself was, in fact, subverted. If the House were prepared to admit that assertion, then they had no right to legislate any further, for they were not competent to pass any acts. He was aware that a licence was allowed in the debates of that House, but when similar language was employed by bodies out of doors, it ought to be carefully watched. Unless they were disposed to lay it down as a principle, that any petition might be received, however insulting, provided it concluded with a prayer for the introduction of a bill, they must reject the present petition. He saw nothing that would prejudice other petitions, by closing the doors against the present one. Its only object was to degrade that parliament, to which, notwithstanding, it applied for relief.
§ Mr. F. Douglas
supported the motion for the reception of the petition. If it were to be rejected on the ground of its alleging that the House did not represent the people, the House must on that ground reject every petition that had for its object a reform of parliament. He thought that the rejection of the petition might tend to increase the disaffection that had been complained of, and that, if the House wished to check that spirit, they must be indulgent to all petitions.
§ Sir S. Romilly
said, he had read the petition, and though he could not entirely approve of the language in which it was couched, yet, at the same time, be did not, in his conscience, believe that it was intended to convey any insult, and he thought the House ought not to be too nice about forms of expression. Besides, it was very possible that the same language might be employed in other petitions, and it would be of the most serious importance if they were to refuse petitions from every part of the kingdom, upon such a subject as the present. When the petitioners said, that the House of Commons was not, in any rational or constitutional sense, the representatives of the people, what else could they say, while applying for parliamentary reform? That was the very ground upon which the petition necessarily rested. He really thought the right hon. gentleman carried his refinement too far, when he inferred that such language was preaching up rebellion and resistance. If he imagined for a moment, that it entered into the thoughts of the petitioners to insult that House by their language, he would be the first to say, that they ought, for their own dignity and consistency, to reject the petition with indignation, but he did not think so, and therefore he should vote for its reception.
Mr. C. Grant,
junr. said, he did not know whether the petitioners intended to insult that House or not, but when he saw a document which contained every expression that could convey an insult; when the allegation, that the House of Commons did not represent the people, was followed up by the broad assertion that the constitution itself was subverted: when he perceived no want of literary talent, no deficiency of knowledge, in that document, and when he saw that if it was intended to insult the House, it would be impossible to select any language more appropriate for such a purpose, he confessed he knew not what other inference could be drawn from it. If such a petition were permitted to lie on their table, they would never be authorized hereafter to reject any other, however insulting or disrespectful it might be.
§ Sir W. Geary
said, that if the arguments of the hon. gentlemen opposite were to have weight, he could not see in what manner the people could have any petitions delivered to that House. The question between that House and the 91 people was, whether the latter were or were not fairly represented among them? If the people thought they were not duly represented, in what other terms could they express their complaints, than those which they used in their petitions before the House? The right hon. gentleman opposite had said, that if such doctrines as the petitioners proclaimed were tolerated, their evident tendency must be to foment rebellion throughout the country. Now it was notorious that such doctrines were general throughout the country; and the feelings displayed by the people furnished the best refutation of the right hon. gentleman's inference; for if the practical result, as he said, would be a state of rebellion, why was not that rebellion now in existence all over the kingdom, for over that surface had these opinions spread? It was an unjust imputation upon the people to say that their intentions were to libel the House. They came to lay their great and heavy grievances before the House of Commons, and they ought, in return, to receive suitable redress.
The House then divided:
The petition was consequently rejected.
For receiving the petition. 48 Against it. 135 Majority. 87
Upon our readmission into the gallery, we found the clerk reading another petition for parliamentary reform, presented by lord Cochrane. When his lordship moved, that it should lie on the table,
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
observed, that after the decision which had just been pronounced upon the former petition, he need not trouble the House at any length with respect to the present one, which was nearly a verbatim copy of the other. He would leave the House to judge how far those petitions were to be considered as the genuine and authentic language of the petitioners, or how far they were the dictation of certain factious demagogues who were now agitating the question of reform throughout the country.
said, he was in every respect ignorant of the views of the petitioners, or how the petitions were drawn up. They were put into his hands, and he considered it his bounden duty to present them. As to their tendency, he would venture to say, with regard to himself, that, notwithstanding all the misrepresentations which 92 had gone abroad, there was no man in the country more sincerely attached to good order and to the government than he was. But that abuses had crept into the constitution, which ought to be instantly corrected, was a truth which no man at all acquainted with the history of the country could deny. It was therefore by no means proper for them to cavil about the mere form or construction of words, but to receive the petitions of the people, as thus only could the sense of the country be known. By rejecting these petitions he was afraid the people would be too successfully irritated, and consequently too much scope given for the exercise of those coercive measures alluded to in the Speech from the throne. He was conscious that in presenting these petitions he was doing nothing more than his duty. He remembered very well the time he was first returned as a member to the House, which was for the borough of Honiton, and on which occasion the town bellman was sent through the town to order the voters to come to Mr. Townshend's, the head man in that place, and a banker, to receive the sum of 10l. 10s. [Hear and a laugh]. This was the truth, and he would ask, how could he in that situation be called a representative of the people in the legitimate constitutional sense of that word? He knew very well, that he might be punished for what he had done. Though he was now conscious that he had done wrong, he assured the House that that was the very way by which he had been returned. If any member disputed it, he could only say he was willing to show the bills and vouchers which he had for the money. He had no doubt but there were very many in that House who had been returned by similar means. His motive, he was now fully convinced, was wrong, decidedly wrong, but as he came home pretty well flushed with Spanish money, he had found this borough open, and he had bargained for it; and he was sure he should have been returned had he been lord Camelford's black servant or his great dog [a laugh]. It was not now the proper period to enter into any discussion respecting the object of these petitions, but he felt himself bound to say, that were a petition put into his hands, he should have no hesitation in presenting it to the House, even though it differed materially from his own opinions. As to the allusion made to demagogues, he trusted the time was not far distant when the House would feel convinced that neither within nor without 93 its walls, had he ever said that which was not. He also trusted the House would duly consider, before it rejected the petitions of the people, and would make every proper allowance for the irritation of their feelings.
allowed, that the noble lord had only done the duty of a member of parliament in taking charge of the petitions. But after the recent decision of the House, was it politic in him to press the reception of a petition, containing the very same language, without giving an opportunity to those, by whom it had been drawn up, of making any alterations which might enable the House to receive it, consistently with its dignity? He would advise the noble lord, although he feared his advice would not be received, to withdraw the petition for the present. By doing so he would act better by those who had signed it, than if he continued to press it, in its present state, on the acceptance of the House.
consented, with the leave of the House, to withdraw the petition, as the general feeling seemed to be, that it was couched in such language as could not be received. His lordship then presented petitions from Lees, in the parish of Ashton-under-Line, and from the town of Oldham, which were ordered to lie on the table. He next presented a petition from Ashton-under-Line.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
asked if it was not couched in the very identical language of the one that had been rejected by the House, and of the other that had been withdrawn?
answered, that if any hon. member would say it was the same, he would withdraw it. And on being a second time questioned, he replied, that it might be, to as certain extent, the same, but contained, in addition, other matter.
It was accordingly read, and was found to contain the identical language that had been objected to in the one that was rejected. Upon the motion of the noble lord the question was then put, that the petition do lie on the table, when it was rejected without a division.
§ Lord Stanley
observed, that there was already on the table a petition from the same town. He wished the noble lord to state whether it was the same. He would own that he had no knowledge of these 94 petitions previously to the present motion. He was aware that a great number of petitions on the same subject were intended to be presented from that county to the House, but with these he was not in the least acquainted. He hoped in behalf of those of his constituents who had thought the noble lord more worthy of being their representative, that if this petition were couched in the same objectionable language as those already rejected, he would give them an opportunity of re-considering their expressions, and rendering them more fit to be received.
stated, that the petitions had been placed in his hands without any interference on his part.
stated the simple question to be, did the petition now presented contain in the judgment of the noble lord, language as disrespectful to the House, and as derogatory to its dignity, as the one which it had rejected? If it did, surely the noble lord was not conducting himself with due regard to the feelings of the House if he persisted in pressing its reading.
§ Mr. Huskisson
observed, upon, looking at the petition, that the prayer of it was written on one piece of parchment, and the signatures on another. No signature was to be found at the bottom of the petition; and for any thing that appeared to the contrary, the petitioners might never have seen the application to which their names were attached. Could the noble lord in these circumstances, from his knowledge of the parties, assure the House that the petitions he presented were genuine, and not mere fabrications? Might not the signatures be previously obtained for some other object, and affixed to a document which had not been subjected to their examination, and the contents of which they did not approve?
§ The Speaker
called the attention of the House to the principle upon which its proceedings in all cases like the present were regulated. The rule was, that every paper presented to the House as a petition should have a signature subscribed of the parties whose prayer it purported to convey. If the names of the petitioners and the application were written on separate papers, and merely attached to each other, there was no certainty that any authority 95 was ever given for uniting them. In looking at this petition, there was no one signature on the same piece of paper with the petition itself. It was not necessary that all the names subscribed should be on the same paper with the application itself, but it was indispensable that some of them should.
Sir F. Burdett
asked, if any man could lay his hand upon his heart, and say, that he disbelieved that the signatures appended to the petition were those of persons who did not concur in it, who had not subscribed it, or who did not agree in its prayer? Different persons residing in different and distant parts of the country might subscribe at different times on a separate paper, detached from the prayer of the petition, for the sake of convenience; but such a mode of procedure furnished no ground for doubting the authenticity of the document when the two papers were joined. In all petitions with numerous signatures there must be some of the names on paper originally disconnected with that which contained the body of the application, but this circumstance was never made an objection to the reception of such documents. If a petition purporting to be subscribed by several hundreds, but which only contained six signatures at the bottom of the prayer, could be received as the petition of those hundreds, why not a petition that contained only one or none at the bottom, but carried them all to a separate paper? His opinion was, that the petitions were genuine, and as such should not be rejected from the mere want of technical form. This was the first time that ever such an objection was brought forward or acted upon. [No! no, from ail parts of the House]. A petition had been rejected as he entered the House, and he knew not on what grounds: no reason was stated, and no discussion entertained.
The Attorney General
observed, that if the hon. baronet had been in the House he would have known the reason of the summary rejection of the petition. He could not agree with the hon. baronet, that the objection now under discussion was merely technical. If petitions could be received written with the signatures on one piece of paper, and the application upon another, what security had the House that they were genuine? Might there not be a bureau in town for the manufacture of petitions, and another in the country for procuring signatures? And 96 might not some demagogue join the operation of the two without any authority from the persons whose names were employed i The House should be open to the grievances and representations of the people, but it should know whether the statement of those grievances and the prayer for relief really came from themselves, or were brought forward by persons who abused their confidence, in order to inflame public discontent. The noble lord had no reason to complain of the rejection of the petition. He could give no information about the parties. He could not tell who they were—whether they had subscribed, or whether the whole might not be a fabrication of which he was made the dupe.
§ Mr. Elliot,
since he had held a seat in parliament, had never voted for the reception of petitions, the whole spirit and tenor of which were insulting to the House. It was because he most highly valued the right of petitioning, that his chief aim was to guard it from abuse. The hon. baronet had misunderstood the subject. It was necessary that there should be at least one signature on the sheet of the petition, and it remained for the House to decide whether it would now depart from its usual practice.
being asked whether the petition was the same as that which had been rejected, replied that he could not say as he had not perused it.
§ The Speaker
said, that every member was bound to read the petitions he presented, and to determine in his own judgment on the propriety of the terms in which they were expressed, before he brought them forward. If the noble lord had not read this one, he might move for leave to withdraw it for that purpose, and bring it forward at another opportunity.
objected to the petition being received, unless the noble lord would state that it varied from the abusive language of that which had been rejected.
thought that the noble lord had only himself to blame for the difficulties which he had encountered.
§ The Speaker
said, that no name appeared on the sheet of the petition. Was the noble lord prepared to say that no name was affixed to it?
said, he was happy, at least, that he had been the means of acquainting the public with the usage of the House.
§ The petition was then rejected. Lord Cochrane then presented a petition from Delph in the parish of Saddleworth in the county of York.
answered, it did not appear to him to be exactly the same; and upon the Speaker's saying that it seemed to be in terminis, the identical petition, his lordship, replied, that he had been so much importuned upon the subject, that he had forgotten the exact words of the rejected one, and could not say till he heard it whether this was the same. In consequence of this declaration, it was read to the end, when his lordship moved that it do lie on the table.
observed, that he had purposely waited to hear the motion of the noble lord till he delivered his sentiments on the conduct he was pursuing. After one petition had been rejected by the House as disrespectful to its dignity; after the noble lord saw such a general feeling on all sides against him; after he himself had consented, in consequence of the expressed sense of parliament, to withdraw another obnoxious application; after the dignified and friendly warning of the speaker, it did appear to him extraordinary and unaccountable, that the noble lord should move to receive this petition, and pertinaciously continue to press upon the House language which it disapproved and renounced. He could not conceive what possible object the noble lord could propose to himself. He could not conceive in what way he could reconcile his conduct to any principles of public good, or expect to produce any advantage to the country. Could he think that he was benefiting the cause of which he professed to be the advocate? God forbid that the petitions of any body of his majesty's subjects should be disregarded! God forbid that applications for reform should be rejected without consideration, and that reform should not be entertained as a subject for fair discussion! but surely the noble lord, so far as allowing it to be brought forward with favour, was injuring it as far as his influence extended. The 98 Speaker had laid down the rules by which the practice of the House in receiving petitions was guided: he had stated that they were not new rules, and that they required the names of some of the petitioners to be subscribed to their petition: but still the noble lord persisted in pressing the reception of their application in opposition to the sense of parliament, and the decision of so high an authority. An hon. baronet had concurred with the noble lord, and seemed to think it extremely ridiculous, that because a petition with a few names should be received, one without any names at all should be rejected. There was nothing absurd or ridiculous in this. A petition with only one signature on the same parchment with the matter of the document could be received, because the petition of one individual deserved consideration from parliament, if conveyed in respectful language; and in addition, gave some security for the authenticity of the whole application, but no security against fabrication was obtained when there was no signature. He did believe that the suspicions of the House were justified on the present occasion: for these petitions were not only expressed in the same terms and with the same spirit, but appeared to come from the same office, and to be written with the same hand. The noble lord had a plain course to pursue, either to give up the prospect of presenting the petitions altogether, or to get them amended and authenticated by those whose prayer they purported to express; but he should not press them on the House in their present state, after the marked manner in which they had been rejected. If the petitioners were really anxious to obtain the object for which they petitioned, they would think it no hardship to convey their application in proper terms. The noble lord had consented at his recommendation to withdraw one of the petitions; and he could not conceive what had operated upon him so sudden a change, as to induce him again to bring forward the very same petition, and to move its reception with so much pertinacity. He entreated the noble lord to follow the usual parliamentary course, and not to think that the House would be driven by mere pertinacity to do one moment what it had the moment before disapproved of.
denied that he pressed the receiving of the petition from mere pertinacity. Knowing that they were all the 99 same in substance, and forgetting the particular words objected to, he did not think the rejection of one was a sufficient reason for refusing to hear another. He, therefore, as a member of the House, exercised his undoubted privilege in laying them before it, and in moving that they should be received, without intending any disrespect, or being guilty of any obstinacy.
§ The motion was negatived.