HC Deb 10 August 1842 vol 65 cc1223-7
Mr. Thomas Duncombe

begged to present to the House fourteen documents, which, strictly speaking, were not petitions, but remonstrances, or protests against the proceedings of the House, signed by the chairman of different public meetings at Bury, Bradford, Hythe, Dundee, Halifax, Aberdeen, Woodside, Sheffield, and other considerable towns. These remonstrances were all couched in the same terms, and represented the feelings of nearly 1,000,000 of the working classes. What they complained of was that the labouring people of this country were suffering from destitution and misery, to an extent hitherto unknown; and after setting forth their grievances in language perfectly respectful and becoming, they went on to express their deep regret, that on a former occasion, when a petition was presented from 3,500,000 of the labouring class, requesting to be heard at the Bar of that House, the House had refused to accede to their prayer; and they added, that if those petitions had been heard, they would have made out a case which would have induced the House to alter the course of legislation it had been pursuing. Satisfied upon that point, they (the remonstrants) stated, that as no hope whatever was held out of a mitigation of their sufferings from the House of Commons as at present constituted, and as they dreaded the awful consequences of a continued disregard of their sufferings, they should proceed to take such peaceful and legal means to remedy the evils of their condition, as the well being of society and their extreme suffering imperatively demanded. The hon. Member (Mr. T. Duncombe) having thus stated the substance of these documents, proposed to bring them up, and to have one of them read at length by the clerk at the Table. [Sir George Clerk: Do these documents contain any prayer?] No; he was aware that documents of this nature could not be received as petitions; but protests of a similar kind had, at different times been read at the Table, and the House had then determined whether it would receive them or not. That was the course he wished to pursue in the present instance.

Sir George Clerk,

from what he could gather from the hon. Member's statement of the substance of these papers, apprehended that they were remonstrances or protests against the conduct of that House, in which case he conceived it would not consist with the forms of the House to allow them to be received under the guise of petitions. Upon this point, he should wish the House to be favoured with the opinion of the Speaker.

The Speaker

said, that the custom was this, that whenever remonstrance were presented to the House coupled with a prayer, they were received as petitions; but when they were offered without a prayer, the rule was to refuse them. He apprehended, that in the present instance the hon. Member for Finsbury had not proposed to bring up these documents as a matter of course. Whether they could he received or not, was a question upon which the House must decide. 'They could not be brought up, nor be read by the clerk at the Table, unless the House first assented.

Mr. T. Duncombe

observed, that if the House refused to allow one of the remonstrances to be read, it would be rejecting a document, emanating from a large body of the people, without knowing what it was. These protests alluded to great national grievances. The people conceived, that they were ill-used, and not being allowed an opportunity of making out their case at the Bar of the House, they adopted this last course of making their grievances known, and of declaring what their own conduct would be. If the House thought proper not to allow the respectful, but firm remonstrances to be read, the fault would rest with the House, and not with him.

Sir Edward Knatchbull,

understanding that the documents contained no prayer, conceived, after what had fallen from the Speaker, that it was impossible for the House to receive them.

Mr. M. J. O'Connell

thought that the House would be placing itself in an awkward position if it rejected documents thus offered to it, without knowing what those documents were.

Mr. Redhead Yorke

protested against the course which the House was about to pursue. If Members were driven blindly to a division without being properly acquainted with the subject upon which they were to divide, he should vote with his hon. Friend, the Member for Finsbury.

Sir Robert Peel

observed, that he had not been present at the early part of the. discussion. He believed, however, that the question was this—

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

begged, as the right hon. Baronet was not present when he (Mr. Duncombe) brought these remonstrances under the notice of the House, and as many other Members had since come down, that he might be again permitted to state the substance of them, and to explain the grounds upon which he offered them to the acceptance of the I louse. The hon. Gentleman accordingly re-stated the substance of the remonstrances, and repeated his proposition, that one of theta should be read by the Clerk at the Table.

Sir Robert Peel

was much obliged to the hon. Member for having again explained for the benefit of those Members who were not present at the commencement of the discussion the precise nature of the subject, He, for one, during a long Parliamentary life, had never raised captious objections to the reception of petitions. He thought it better, unless there appeared to be a disposition to treat the House with disrepect, not to enter into a critical examination of the terms in which petitioners expressed themselves. He was never disposed to object to words; but, at the same time, he thought it of importance, that the established forms and usages with respect to the reception of addresses to the House should be adhered to; and, at any rate, that those established forms and usages should not he departed from with- out the advantage of previous notice and mature consideration. The hon. Gentleman said, that these were not petitions, but. remonstrances. Then, if the rule of the House were, that the mode of approaching it for the purpose of declaring an opinion, or expressing a wish, should be in the form of petition, he (Sir It. Peel) thought, that that form ought to be adhered to. He apprehended, that the orders of the House implied, that such should he the course of proceedings. The Standing Orders required, that the Member should state the prayer of the petition. Therefore both usages and the Standing Orders implied, that the mode of approaching the House, either for the declaration of opinion, or for the presentation ' of remonstrance, was by petition, It was not his wish, in the slightest degree, to trench upon the rights of those who wished to approach that House; but if general usage, and the Standing Orders of the House, pointed out the form of petition as the only mode in which the House could be approached, lie trusted, that the House would not in the present instance permit its usual forms to be departed from, without the opportunity of a full and mature consideration.

Mc. T. Duncombe

said, that documents without prayers, similar to those which he wished to present, had been brought to the Table on former occasions, and that the House had divided on the propriety of receiving them.

Sir R. Peel

said, that such cases must be exceedingly rare. He had not been able to find in the Journals of the House a precedent for the reception of any remonstrance except in the form of petition. It was, however, a question to be decided by the authority of the Speaker, and he trusted the Speaker would state what was the usage on the subject.

The Speaker

said, that the usage of the House certainly had been not to receive any remonstrance, unless it concluded with a prayer. There was a Standing Order requiring That the prayer of every petition should be stated by the Member presenting it.

Mr. T. Duncombe,

understanding that there was a positive Standing Order against the reception of such documents, would not further press them upon the acceptance of the House.—Motion withdrawn.