HC Deb 03 March 1818 vol 37 cc752-3
Sir S. Romilly

said, he had 46 petitions to present from the city of Bristol, signed by 20 persons, each praying for a reform in parliament, viz. annual elections and universal suffrage. The persons who signed these petitions, and others of the same nature, laboured under a great mistake. They imagined that there was a law which prevented petitions from being presented by the people to their representatives signed by more than twenty names. This was an error; there was no such law; and it would surprise those who had seen petitions presented heretofore signed by hundreds and thousands. There was an act of parliament, indeed, passed soon after the Restoration, which declared it an offence "to solicit and go about to procure" petitions to be signed by more than 20 persons; but the House of Commons would never venture to pass a law to prevent the people from presenting Petitions, however numerously signed. Indeed, such a law, combined with the rejection of printed petitions, would make it hardly possible that the sense of the people should be taken. The gentlemen who had signed the petitions he held in his hand, had done him the honour to entrust him with the petitions, on the supposition that he would fairly present them, for he had formerly fully declared that though he considered some reform to be absolutely necessary, his sentiments were not in unison with the plan of reform here proposed.

The petitions were laid on the table, and the first was ordered to be printed. It sat forth, "That defective representation being the nation's bane, the petitioners pray, that all male subjects (infants, insanes, and criminals excepted) might equally share in annually electing representatives to serve in parliament."

Lord Cochrane

said, he had several hundred petitions to present to the House on the subject of parliamentary reform, a few of which he would now bring up. He had four from St. Margaret's, Westminster, 99 from Leeds, five from Bristol, several from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Ashton-under-Line, and a number of other places.

The petitions were then presented by the noble lord. They were signed by twenty persons each, and were couched in the same terms as those presented by sir S. Romilly. They were ordered to lie on the table.