HC Deb 08 April 1842 vol 62 cc76-83
Mr. T. Duncombe

said, he had a petition to present from 308 persons residing in the metropolis who gave their reasons why they disapproved of the proposed Income-tax. One was, that it was not just to tax incomes derived from trades and professions in the same proportion as those which arose out of permanent property; and they also declared, that if the pro posed bill were passed for three years they had little doubt that it would be continued for a much longer period, and the amount of the tax which it levied increased. He moved, that this petition be brought up.

The Speaker ;

It is contrary to the practice of the House, that such a petition should be received.

Mr. T. Duncombe

thought, with the utmost respect for the right hon. Gentle man's authority, that it was within the power and discretion of the House to reject or accept a petition of the nature of that which he presented. There was no rule—no standing order—to prevent the reception of the people's petitions by that House. He admitted, that yesterday the resolution which he had proposed for the discontinuance of the practice of the House, namely, their not receiving any petitions pending the consideration of a tax, had been negatived. The House, by a very narrow majority, and at the instance of her Majesty's Government, rejected his proposition; but, as there was no standing order—no resolution of the House on which to ground the custom which had been confirmed by last night's vote, but only the obsolete, absurd, and cobwebbed practice itself — though he should be the last person to endeavour to fly in the face of any standing recorded opinion of that House—he thought the departure from this practice in various instances, clearly shewed that the House had the power of receiving or rejecting the petitions of the people as it thought fit. He admitted, that the usage had been such as was last night insisted on; but it took its rise in the most corrupt times, when Walpole was Minister, and it continued up to the time of the Reform Bill, during all which period the Minister enjoyed more power, the House was more corrupt, and the majority of course more pliant. But in 1815 Sir W. Curtis, pending the consideration of the property-tax, offered a petition to the House, and the House divided on the question whether it be received on the very ground on which the Speaker had now intimated, namely, the existence of a practice to the contrary. In 1816, another petition was brought up by the sheriffs of London, and Sir W. Curtis having moved that it be received, the proposal was agreed to. He considered, on the whole, that the practice was more honoured in "the breach than in the observance," and he should certainly take the sense of the House on the question, whether this petition be received or not.

The Speaker

I have already stated what has been the practice of the House with regard to such petitions as the present; but of course I cannot insist on the continuance of that practice if the House should think fit to alter it. I do not think, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman can be denied the power to make the motion which he has submitted.

Mr. R. Palmer:

He must say, that had he been in the House last night, he should in all probability have voted with the minority. He really could not see the object of retaining a custom which failed completely in answering its ostensible object; for the hon. Member for Finsbury had now done as much as if the petition were formally laid on the Table of the House. The hon. Gentleman had stated the place whence the petition proceeded, the number of those who signed it, and its prayer. There must be some grounds of which he was not aware for continuing a practice which struck him as of a nugatory character, and he should be glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman in the Chair, what reasons could be alleged in justification of the custom.

Mr. Kemble

was not present at the debate last night, and if he had been, he bad considerable doubt how be should have voted. But this he did say, that when it was known that the public business would not commence until five o'clock, and after a decision had been solemnly come to on this question, it was a most unfair proceeding to come forward in the strong force in which those opposite had evidently mustered on that occasion. It was impossible to see the array on the other side, without coming to the conclusion that an effort had been made for the purpose of collecting a great number of hon. Members to support the motion. It was not fair, after the discussion of last night, to try and get rid by a side wind of the resolution which had been come to, and when the Speaker had declared it was contrary to the usage of the House. Under these circumstances he should move that the debate upon the subject be adjourned till Monday.

Sir H. Hardinge

must declare, after the decision which had been come to yesterday evening, that it was an unparliamentary proceeding to come down to the House that evening, and before the usual hour at which public business commenced, to attempt to set aside that decision. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member would not persist in his motion, but would adjourn his proposition till Monday.

Mr. O'Connell

hoped his hon. Friend would not consent to postpone his motion. As to the idea of meeting the question by "a side wind," the charge was wholly unfounded, for this motion met the diffi- culty directly. So far, again, from its being unparliamentary to receive the petitions of the people on money grants, it was the very foundation of all their proceedings and of all their privileges. We should never have had a Parliament but that Englishmen were jealous of their hold on the purse-strings of the nation; and it was certainly most ridiculous that it should be a maxim of the constitution, that you could not vote a shilling without the consent of the representatives of the people, and yet prevent that people from making known their wishes to their representatives. The practice was directly contrary to first principles, and he came down for the very purpose of opposing its continuance. He had the misfortune to be shut out yesterday, and he came down that day for the sake of remedying the omission. And without the slightest disrespect to hon. Gentlemen opposite, he hoped his hon. Friend would persevere until he succeeded. He felt embarrassed lest the Speaker should decide otherwise than he had, and in that case he would submit to the right hon. Gentleman's decision; but as the right hon. Gentleman left the House to decide, he trusted an end would be put to the question. Taxes of all things most affected the interests of traders and professional people; and ought not they on such a subject to be heard by their representatives? He hoped it would not be considered a party question, and that they would only consider what was their duty to their constituents; and for his own part he would, under any circumstances, have supported the view he was now advocating.

Mr. Kemble

wished to explain. He had said nothing with regard to the question, but he complained that after the decision they had come to last night, the question should be sought to be carried by a side wind.

Colonel Sibthorp

had last night voted for the hon. Member for Finsbury, but after his motion had been lost by such a majority, he did not think it altogether fair to seek to upset that decision in the manner the hon Member now proposed it. It was not consistent with the open and manly course which that hon. Member always took, and he should therefore vote against his proposition to-night.

Mr. Lambton

had supported the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury last night, but after the decision which bad been then come to, as to what the practice of the House was, he protested against the present proceeding, as being rather an unfair way of obtaining, by a side wind, a reversal of that decision. Let the hon. Member bring forward his motion on a future day, and he would support him on a question which involved the security of the people, and their right to petition that House, but he would not lend himself to upset the rules and regulations of the House by a side wind.

Mr. R. Palmer

thought it would be more consistent with the course in which business was carried on in that House if the hon. Gentleman would give notice for a future day, and let the subject receive the discussion which it deserved.

Sir R. H. Inglis

contended that, in common courtesy, the hon. Member for Finsbury, in attempting practically to re verse the decision of the House, ought at least to have given notice of his intention last night, so that the House might have been in possession of his intention to present a petition, on the reception of which the whole question was to be reargued and again decided. Of that no one would have complained. But after the expression of opinion last night, he ought not, without any communication to hon. Members except to his own friends around him, again to raise that great and important question. He should vote for the adjournment; and he trusted that, with the assistance of the hon. Member for Durham, whose speech was so effective, and with whom he entirely concurred, the object of the hon. Member for Finsbury would be frustrated.

Captain Pechell

said, that perhaps the hon. Member for Finsbury, might not have had an opportunity of giving notice of his intention to present the petition. Members on that side of the House usually presented petitions as soon as they received them. He hoped that the hon. Member would persist in his motion for bringing up the petition. He might, perhaps, pursue the same course with respect to a petition which he had in his possession. At the same time he begged to disclaim any want of courtesy to the Speaker.

The Solicitor- General

said, that without discussing whether the practice was a wise one or not, it had been the practice of the House for the last 100 or 150 years to reject petitions such as that which the hon. Member for Finsbury now offered to the House. The House last night decided that it would adhere to the practice. It was doubtless competent to any hon. Member to bring the subject again under the consideration of the House; but he ought in fairness to give notice of his intention. Let the House consider the inconveniences which must result from such a course of proceeding as that which the hon. Member was now pursuing. The whole of their proceedings were regulated by usage and practice. The practice with respect to bringing on particular kinds of business on particular days, as with respect to the priority of business, and upon various other points, might be assailed in the same manner as the hon. Member was now assailing the practice respecting the reception of petitions. It was unprecedented in the history of Parliament, that when the House had on one day decided upon adhering to a particular practice, a Member should come down on the following night, and, without notice, take a step in direct violation of that practice. He could not believe that even those Members who concurred with the hon. Member for Finsbury in disproving of the practice respecting petitions would support him in his present attempt.

Lord J. Russell

was one of those who were not aware of the hon. Member's intention to propose that the petition should be received. He agreed with the hon. and learned Solicitor-general, that without reference to this particular case, but with respect to the general usage and forms of the House, that a motion which had been once rejected by the House should not be again brought forward without notice. He disapproved only of the manner in which the question had been brought forward, and not of the question itself. He thought it was not only competent to the hon. Member to bring the question again under the consideration of the House, but that it was reasonable he should do so. The mere fact that the practice of rejecting these petitions had continued uninterrupted for 150 years was sufficient to induce the House to negative the motion which the hon. Member brought forward last night; but the House ought again to consider the question, and to weigh the reasons on which the practice stood. On these grounds he hoped that his hon. Friend would consent to the adjournment of the debate.

Mr. Aglionby

concurred in the recom mendation for the adjournment of the debate. He thought the question was one of the greatest importance, but he would scorn to obtain his object by a side wind. The opposition to the reception of these petitions would prove unavailing. He hoped that every Member who had such petitions to present, would give notice of their intention to move that they should be received, and bring them forward over and over again. The question was one in which the people were much interested, and it could not be smothered, even by a majority of thirty-one.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, he had stated at the outset, that if there existed any order or rule of the House—any lex scripta to justify the rejection of these petitions, he would be the last person in the House to fly in the face of it; but there was no thing of the kind to be found. It was not true that there was an uninterrupted stream of precedents in favour of the rejection of the petitions, for the debate of last night showed that there were precedents both ways. He had shown that in 1711 petitions of this kind were not only received, but submitted to a committee of the whole House, when there was under consideration a bill for levying taxes to the amount of 1,500 000l. The right hon. Baronet quoted two or three precedents in 1795 against the presentation of such petitions; but if the right hon. Gentleman looked to the year 1815, he would find that those petitions were not rejected nemine con tradicente. In that year, on a division respecting the reception of a petition of this nature from the City of London, the numbers were, if he were not mistaken, 107 to 59 against the reception. Their rules and precedents, unless based on common sense and justice, and supported by public opinion, amounted to nothing, and ought not to be attended to by the House. The hon. Member for Surrey found fault with him, because hon. Gentlemen came down to the House and seemed prepared to support the presentation of the petition. The hon. Member complained, he supposed, because he had not whipped up the Carlton Club for the occasion. He certainly had stated to several of his friends, that the question should not stop where it was: and it should not so stop. Unless they laid down a standing order against it, day after day, when any of his constituents or any other portion of the community placed a peti tion, such as the one now objected to, in his hands, he would place that petition before the House, and the odium of its rejection by the House should rest upon the majority. He agreed most willingly in the suggestion of adjourning the subject to Monday next, when at five o'clock he would ask the House whether they would receive the petition, which till then he should keep in his possession.

Mr. M. Gibson

wished to know what distinction was drawn between the duties on corn, and a tax on income?

Sir R. Peel

said, that the duties on corn were not proposed in a committee of Ways and Means for the service of the year, and therefore the general rule respecting the presentation of petitions applied to them, whereas the Income-tax was proposed for the service of the year, and the practice was not to receive petitions against propositions of that nature.

Debate adjourned.

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