HC Deb 15 August 1831 vol 6 cc7-9
Mr. Hume

had some Petitions to which he wished to call the attention of the House, in consequence of what had passed on some former occasions. The first was a Petition from Cupar, in Fife, very numerously signed, but containing objectionable expressions. He had struck out every word that could be considered offensive. For doing this, he had received the authority of some of the petitioners, but the consent of others had not yet arrived. He was not present when it had been ruled, that petitions with erasures could not be received unless they had been sanctioned by the petitioners; but he was willing to act on the principle, as he understood it to have been established. The second Petition was from the city of Perth; the third came from the Political Union of Dundee; another from the Political Union of Leslie; and another was the Petition of the Political Union of Edinburgh. This latter petition was expressive of approbation of the principle of the Reform Bill, and of regret at the delay which had taken place in its progress. He was aware, that in order to preserve freedom of debate, it had been ruled, that no Member could impute motives to the actions of another, and he felt, that, as some of these petitions imputed motives to the opponents of the Bill, they could not be received, it being clear, that petitioners were not at liberty to do that which could not be done by Members themselves. The Perth petition assigned factious motives and attempts at intentional delay to the opponents of the Bill. The petition from Cupar did the same. He was, therefore, aware, that he could not present either of them, although he was ready to state their prayer, which was for the speedy passing of the Bill. The Edinburgh petition he should present, because it was free from any thing objectionable, merely praying the House to accelerate the progress of the Reform Bill. He abstained from presenting the Dundee petition, because it characterised the opposition to the Bill as factious, and imputed improper motives to Members. For the reasons stated, he did not consider himself authorized to offer any but the Edinburgh petition to the House. At the same time, he thought it well that the grounds of his refusal to present the others should be generally known.

Mr. George Robinson rose to order, and asked, whether it was competent for a Member to state the substance of petitions, which he himself admitted could not be received?

The Speaker

thought the hon. member for Middlesex perfectly in order, and was of opinion, that the trouble which the hon. Gentleman had been giving himself, would prove extremely advantageous to the House. With respect to alterations in petitions, it had been decided, that if erasures were made by the petitioners, or with their consent, the petitions still contained the prayer of the petitioners, and might, therefore, be received by the House. But, if Members were allowed to make erasures at their own discretion, there would be no possibility of drawing a line of distinction as to what might, or might not, be altered, and petitions might be converted into supporting a. totally different object from that intended by their authors. There was another objection to such a course—namely, that it would lead to the principle of causing Members to adopt petitions as their own, instead of being merely channels of conveying petitions to the House, without committing themselves to their contents.

Mr. Hume

was glad to find, that he was borne out by the Speaker in the course he had adopted. He was anxious that popular bodies should know, that the only objection to receiving their petitions arose from their not keeping within the same restraint as to language, as the Members of the House, found it convenient and necessary to do. The petition from Leslie contained an expression of indignation against the faction in Parliament, which had prevented the country from, as yet, reaping the expected benefit from the Reform Bill. The petitioners also attributed improper motives to the opponents of the Bill: on these grounds, their petition could not be presented. In conclusion, he asked leave to bring up the Edinburgh petition.

Mr. George Robinson

repeated his objection to Members stating the contents of petitions which could not be laid on the Table: such a course must lead to loss of time, and great public inconvenience.

Mr. Hunt

did not think the view taken by the hon. member for Middlesex of this subject had been taken by any Member previously. Petitions which he had presented had been rejected, because they were said to be couched in strong language, but not because they attributed improper motives to hon. Gentlemen.

Petition to lie on the Table.