HC Deb 28 July 1836 vol 35 cc609-12
Lord J. Russell

said, in reply to a question, that it was his intention to that the Poor Laws Amendment Bill be postponed for the present. The noble Lord moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Bill.

Mr. T. Attwood

had some petitions to present, and hoped the House would allow him to present them.

The Speaker

observed, that by a resolution of the House the public business was to be proceeded with at half-past four o'clock.

Mr. Attwood

was not aware of any such arrangement.

Several hon. Members stated that they had petitions which they were anxious to present.

Major Beauclerk

said, he wished most distinctly to deny the inferences which a morning paper had drawn from his speech of the previous night. He had not the slightest intention of casting any blame upon the Speaker.

The Speaker

I hope the House will allow me to state, on the present occasion, the course which I felt it my duty to pursue, and with regard to the propriety of which I am most desirous to have the opinion of the House. When I had the honour of being placed in the Chair, I found it a general complaint that much of the time of the House was occupied in the presentation of petitions; and I also found that the opinion of the majority of the Members of the House was against the practice of morning sittings, in which opinion I was, and still am disposed to concur. I wished, therefore, to discover some remedy for this evil, and I found that there was a Report of a Committee in 1833, which recommended a course to be taken with regard to the presentation of petitions,—which re-commendation had never been adopted. On my assuming the Chair, I found the pressure of public business very great upon the House, while its time was much occupied with the presentation of petitions. I took upon myself, then, to adopt that course which, in my opinion, was best calculated to promote the general convenience; and to save the time of the House, I endeavoured to bring back the House to the practice which prevailed when I first entered Parliament; when petitions were presented without any discussion being had upon them. In making that attempt I was aware that I had undertaken an unpleasant and ungracious task, but I felt it to be my duty, and I have endeavoured to discharge it to the satisfaction of the House. It was my conviction that in recalling the House to the ancient practice of Parliament on this point, I was only performing my duty. The House has, on many occasions, appeared to me to have approved of the course which I have thus adopted. Last night I certainly was induced to doubt whether the House concurred in that course, when I heard hon. Members on both sides of the House recommend the hon. Member for Berkshire to persevere in making the observations he did on the presentation of a petition. The rule which I have endeavoured to enforce is this—that when a petition is presented referring to matters already before the House, and for the discussion of which a proper opportunity will hereafter arise, the hon. Member presenting it should confine himself to a statement of the substance and prayer of the petition, whether he concurs in the general measure to which it refers or not. But there is another class of petitions, which relate to cases of peculiar grievance and individual complaint. It appears to be the wish of the House not to shut the door against the discussion of the statements contained in such petitions, there being no other proper opportunity for bringing them under its consideration; and it seems to me, therefore, that it is the pleasure of the House that hon. Members should be allowed greater latitude in the presentation of such petitions. There is a third class of petitions —where hon. Members wish to found motions upon them. The ordinary practice of the House in such cases is, that the hon. Member should present the petition, and have it printed with the Votes, on the condition that he at the same time give notice of the day on which he intends to bring the matter under the consideration of the House. Such are the rules and regulations I have endeavoured to enforce, and having stated the reasons which have induced me to adopt them, I now leave the matter in the hands of the House. If the House be satisfied with the course I have pursued, I am sure a continuance in it will tend to the convenience of the House and to the despatch of business. If, on the contrary, the. House thinks that some other course should be adopted, it will still be necessary to limit the period for the reception and discussion of petitions.

Mr. Thomas Attwood

thought, that the strict enforcement of such a rule would interfere with the presentation of the people's petitions, and that they would virtually be rejected.

Lord John Russell

In my opinion, the practice that has been adopted by you, Sir, has superseded a very inconvenient practice in the proceedings of the House. The greatest inconvenience formerly arose from the practice of hon. Members not contenting themselves with stating the substance and prayer of a petition, but entering into long discussions on general subjects with which perhaps, they had little connexion. I am sure that the House is unanimous in its feeling as to the propriety and necessity of putting an end to such a practice, and I am equally are that we all feel indebted to the Speaker for the course he has adopted. If some such rule be not enforced, one or two petitions may take up a whole evening, and we shall then be obliged to come back to the practice of allowing the presentation of petitions until nine or ten o'clock at night. Is it not obvious that such a practice would lead to the interruption of all real business, and that in fact it would prevent, instead of facilitate, the presentation of petitions? There are cases where discussions on petitions are necessary, but they should be introduced by a motion on some order of the day.

Order of the Day read.

Major Beauclerk

hoped before the question was disposed of, that he might say that the whole subject of the Poor-laws ought to be brought before a Committee of that House, and in that case he should have no objection to the noble Lord nominating the Members of that Committee. It had never been his wish or intention to cry down the Poor-law Bill; he believed that great good had resulted from that measure, but he certainly wished to point out the errors in that Act. He only threw out this suggestion for the consideration of the noble Lord.

Lord John Russell

said, his mind was most decidedly made up on the subject, and the opinion which he entertained was, that it was not expedient to refer the whole question of the Poor-laws to a Select Committee, with a view to their considering whether the Poor-law Amendment Act should be continued or not, as any such proceeding would be to create a doubt in the public mind of the value of that measure. But at the same time he would likewise say, that if there were any part of the law which was supposed, or should be found really to act with unnecessary severity, and to inflict hardships upon the poor, especially with reference to separating the nearest relatives, and keeping them apart from each other, he should have no objection to the appointment of a Select Committee to remedy such defects.

The Bill to be read a second time that day six months.