HC Deb 21 June 1836 vol 34 cc669-72
Colonel Thompson

presented a petition from the Radical Association of Hull, signed by 1,400 persons, complaining of the Poor-law Bill and the Corn-laws, and of the burthens thrown on the industrious and poorer classes, who were taxed for the little luxuries they could consume, twenty times more than the rich. On the last point he should be glad to accede to an arithmetical correction; for after having paid considerable attention to the subject, he was unable to state any instance in which the disproportion between the poor and rich was more than twelve to one. They prayed also for the repeal of those clauses in the Poor-law Act that pressed harshly on the poor—that one-third of the tithes should be appropriated to their support, and that those charitable bequests which had been hitherto roguishly absorbed by the clerical and lay aristocracy, should be appropriated to their proper uses. The hon. Member said, that the petition was certainly expressed in strong language, and the warmth which animated the petitioners had induced them to use one word, for which, if he had been consulted as a critic, he should certainly have recommended the substitution of one less cacophonous.

The Speaker

The hon. Member, in presenting this petition, did state, and he stated it most correctly, that there were expressions in it which were exceptionable. The House, I am sure, is, and ever has been, at all times most ready to receive petitions from any quarter; but it is, I contend, a very grave question for the House to consider, whether they will receive a petition which contains a charge of so gross a nature against any class in the country. I am sure, however, that on reflection the hon. Member will himself see that the House cannot, consistently with a sense of its own dignity, allow language to be addressed to any body of persons, which it would not allow to be addressed to itself.

Colonel Thompson

said, there were two points which he conceived to be of duty. One was, that he should submit the petition of his constituents; the other that he should not disguise from the House the strength of any of its expressions. He submitted that the word objected to was used in a general sense, and that it would be better to allow the people to express their complaints as they felt them.

Mr. Williams Wynn

rose to order. He agreed that it was desirable that the people should have the fullest opportunity to state their complaints to that House, but then they should do so in decent and becoming language. He would, therefore, suggest to the hon. and gallant Member to withdraw the petition, and have the obnoxious terms modified; and he was confident that the petitions, on the recommendation of the hon. and gallant Member, would have no objection to do so. Such offensive terms had better be avoided in petitions, and the absence of them would enforce more respect for the prayers of the petitioners.

Mr. Henry Grattan

remarked that the allusion of the petitioners to charitable bequests had no reference to, but was totally distinct from tithes. The Corporation of Dublin, according to the Commissioners' Report, had a charitable bequest made to them, which he could aver was "roguishly" applied.

Mr. Hume

was able to prove to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wynn), from reports on the Table, that charitable bequests had been "roguishly misapplied." A case was proved in Court this Session where in- dividuals had roguishly misapplied charitable bequests, and it was therefore very questionable whether the terms used in the petition were misapplied.

Mr. Williams Wynn, said, that the terms used in the petition were "roguishly applied by the clerical and lay aristocracy," which was alluding most pointedly, and in a way that could not be well mistaken, to a particular class of persons.

Mr. Ewart

said, that petitions had been frequently presented by hon. Members opposite, containing the terms "tyrannical and oppressive," as applied to hon. Friends at his side of the House, and he (Mr. Swart) could not perceive any great distinction between them. He did not think that the hon. Gentleman would rise and say that charitable funds had not been roguishly misapplied. He had no doubt that the allegations made by the petitioners could be fully sustained; and impressed with that feeling, he thought it more desirable to induce them to speak out rather than to take exception to the phrases in which they conveyed their just and well-founded complaints to the House.

Mr. Goulburn

was of opinion that it would be extremely desirous for all parties coming before the House with their prayers to have their language couched in a decent and proper manner. He maintained it was not correct of the petitioners to impute roguishness to a particular class of individuals because certain individuals belonging to it might have done wrong. The hon. Member who had just sat down no doubt would consider it unjust if a crime having been committed by certain parties in Liverpool, the entire community in that town were to be stigmatised and disgraced.

Mr. Hawes

said, that they would be unworthy to be considered as the Representatives of a free people, if they objected to receive the petition. What did the Commissioners of corporate inquiry say, on the subject of charitable bequests throughout the country? They were not over-choice of the phraseology which they used on the occasion, the phraseology used by the petitioners was somewhat strong, but it was only what they deemed necessary to convey a proper notion of their detestation of those enactments of which they complained. He for one would declare that charitable trusts had been grossly misapplied.

Sir James Graham

said, that very strong language might he used in a petition without its being objectionable: but he was sure the House would see the necessity and propriety for putting some term, for fixing some limit, as well to the language used within the walls of that House as to that contained in the petitions addressed to it. He had been at an early period acquainted with the constituents of the gallant Member, and he was sure if the petition was withdrawn, and if they were given to understand that the highest authority in that House objected to one expression in it, they would at once expunge it. He hoped the gallant Colonel would take that course, as if he took the sense of the House on the petition in its present shape, he must vote against its reception.

Mr. Roebuck

concurred in offering the same suggestion to the gallant Member for Hull. He thought "dishonestly" was a term that might have been employed.

Dr. Bowring

suggested that the Speaker should state his opinion as to whether the language was unparliamentary or not.

The Speaker

Then I can have no hesitation in declaring that the hon. Member would exercise a sound discretion in withdrawing the petition for the present. The House will only act wisely and consistently with that character which it should maintain, by always enforcing a proper spirit of decorum, not merely on all occasions within its own walls, but in all documents and petitions that are addressed to it.

Colonel Thompson

said, that he had waited for nothing but a suggestion from the Chair. He would therefore, withdraw the Petition.

Petition withdrawn.