HC Deb 12 May 1837 vol 38 cc821-4
Lord J. Russell

rose to move, that the House at its rising adjourn until Wednesday. He would take the liberty of saying a word or two on a practice which had formerly prevailed, and which he had been told was in some danger of being revived—he alluded to the practice of entering into discussions on the presentation of petitions. He begged hon. Members to recollect that this was a real inconvenience to petitioners themselves, as the presentation of forty or fifty petitions might be delayed, while one or two hon. Members were raising a discussion on those with which they were intrusted. Another evil that he thought would be found to result from the practice was, that it would alter for the worse the character of the debates, as it absorbed those opinions which would more properly be brought forward when a subject was fairly before the House. He could not think that hon. Members would revive the practice after the opinion which the Speaker had lately expressed upon it, and he could not conclude without observing that he thought the House was highly indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the course he had taken on the subject, which would tend to a greater facility in the presentation of petitions, effect a saving in the time of the House, and maintain the character of their discussions by confining them to those occasions when the subject was properly before the House, instead of wasting its time in fruitless and desultory debate. He was glad to perceive that he was not without the concurrence of the House in thus calling their attention to the rule, "which," said the noble Lord, "I am sure the House will agree with me in acknowledging that you, Sir, have so well enforced." The noble Lord then moved "That the House at its rising do adjourn until Wednesday, the 17th of May."

Mr. Hume

must differ from the noble Lord, unless he were prepared with some other plan of taking notice of petitions. He thought it would be better to lay the petitions on the table of the House, to classify them, and then name a day on which they might be taken into consideration. If some such plan were not adopted, he thought it would be better to leave the matter to the discretion of Members, as, for instance, the case of the petitions that had been presented by the hon. Member for Berkshire on an important subject was an occasion on which he thought the rule should be relaxed.

Sir J. Graham

could not concur with the statement of the hon. Member for Middlesex. So far from regretting, he was happy that the noble Lord had introduced the subject. The ancient practice was, that no discussion should take place on the presentation of petitions, and it was not until 1817 that that practice was departed from. He thought that it would be most objectionable to leave it to the discretion of Members to decide whether they would or would not make a statement on the presentation of a petition. The great evil of the present mode of doing business in that House was, that so much time was wasted in the debates in talking upon subjects that were utterly irrelevant to the question under consideration. The consequence was, that so little business was done. If they allowed discussions on the presentation of petitions, they would consequently have long debates which would lead to no result. He thought that the plan that had been adopted by the Speaker was a most useful one, and ought to be continued. Under the present arrangement, when notice was given of the presentation of a petition which an hon. Member deemed of importance, every facility was given by the chair to the statement of facts contained in the petition, but not to debating upon a general question. He sincerely hoped the result of what was then passing would be a strict adherence to the rule which the Speaker had so successfully established, and which had proved to be so beneficial.

Mr. Warburton

did not wish to sanction the practice established by the Speaker on the ground of antiquity, but he would do so on the reasonableness of it. It would be impossible to conduct the public business in that House if their time could be taken up, at the pleasure of hon. Members, by discussions on the presentation of petitions. It was just as impossible that two bodies should occupy the same space as that the Members of that House should find time for debating on petitions and for conducting the ordinary business of the House. He considered the practice that had been recurred to was a most useful practice, and he hoped the House would not break through it. It should also be recollected that it was sufficient to give notice of the presentation of a petition to be able to make a statement on it. By this means greater attention was given to the more important petitions than was formerly the case. At present all petitions were referred to a Select Committee, who, reported to the House the nature and prayer of each petition and the number of regulations affixed to it. This was a most useful practice.

Viscount Palmerston

observed, that the rule that had been laid down was as much for the interests of the petitioners as it was for the facilitating the conducting the public business. He hoped the House would adhere to the practice as a general rule.

Mr. C. Buller

objected to the rule, because it did not go half far enough. He thought that the suggestion of the hon. Member for Middlesex as to referring petitions to Committees was worthy of serious attention.

Lord Sandon

agreed with all those who had said there should be no debate upon petitions; and he was sure that the House would, in general, bow to the authority of the Speaker on the subject. The rule, however, ought not to be too strict.

Mr. Wakley

wished to know precisely how far a Member was allowed to go. Merely stating the place whence a petition came, and its prayer, was a useless ceremony, and they might as well put petitions into the bag at once without saying a word. He agreed with the right hon. Baronet opposite, that too much time was 1st in that House in useless discussions, but it was not upon petitions. He was sorry to say that more time had been consumed by the hon. Gentlemen opposite opposing justice to Ireland than had ever been done upon petitions.

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