HC Deb 28 March 1848 vol 97 cc1055-61

begged the attention of the House to a petition from John Beale, of No. 4, Grosvenor Cottages, North-end, Eaton-square, London. The petition set forth that he considered the country as being in a most critical state, and that what has been going forward in countries elsewhere was likely to rouse the masses of this into action to seek for what they considered likely to be beneficial to them; that poverty and wretchedness almost indescribable existed amongst the people; that one of the causes of discontent was the defective character of the representation of the people in the House of Commons; that another was the fact, that whether in the Church, the Army, the Navy, the courts of justice, the colonies, or any place of emolument at home or abroad, they saw them all reserved for and filled by the scions of wealthy families. The petitioner therefore prayed for the establishment of universal suffrage, and of secret voting in the election of representatives of the people. He prayed that the Church property should be applied to the reduction of the national debt, and the produce of the Crown lands to the same purpose; that all sinecures, gratuities, and pensions should be abolished, except for meritorious services; he prayed for the reduction of the Army to the same footing as that on which it stood at the close of the last war—for the reduction and arrangement of taxation on a new scale—for the abolition of the laws of entail and primogeniture—for the separation of Church and State—for a reformed system of currency—and for the abolition of the House of Lords. The petition stated that one representative assembly was sufficient for all national purposes, and he prayed that his very reasonable requests might be taken into the consideration of the House.


opposed the bringing up of the petition.


believed that no hon. Member could object to a petition being brought up. He might object to its reception.


read the Order of the House, which referred to petitions which might contain something contrary to the rules of the House. He supposed the hon. Member for the University of Oxford opposed the bringing up of the petition on some such grounds.


presumed the House had no right to receive such a petition; and he contended that a petition could no more be presented to that House containing a prayer for the abolition of the House of Lords than if it contained a prayer for the abolition of the Monarchy.


thought that his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford had, without intending it, placed the Speaker in a somewhat invidious position. The question was really one for the House and not the Speaker to decide; and in order that they might be enabled to come to a decision fairly, it would be necessary that the hon. Member for Finsbury should state the precise nature and force of the petition. It would be then for the House to determine what course should be pursued.


said, he would read the passages to which the hon. Baronet objected. They were— The abolition of the House of Lords, your petitioner considering one assembly of representatives duly elected sufficient for national purposes. The final prayer was— Your petitioner extremely desires to see all these measures passed, believing the condition of the country to be such, that unless they are adopted, a convulsion must ensue which will bury in one common ruin all establishments which are now the envy of foreigners, but a continued source of evil to this nation.


only wished to have the passage of the petition to which he objected read at the table, and he should then move that the petition be rejected.


thought that the whole petition should be read at the table. That was the rule of the House.


thought it would be enough to have the objectionable passage read at the table, as the House might be better employed than in listening to a long petition read at the table. It was customary for hon. Members to receive all petitions intrusted to them for presentation; but it was not understood that by presenting a petition, any hon. Member was bound by the sentiments contained in it. He hoped his hon. Friend would not persevere with his Motion, as it would in his view be attaching too much importance to the petition.

The Clerk at the table having read the passages,


said, that if an analogous petition were presented to the House of Lords for the abolition of the House of Commons, that body would not receive it, neither would either House receive a petition praying for the abolition of the Monarchy; and he could not see, therefore, why the House of Commons should receive a petition like the present, advocating opinions which were opposed to the almost unanimous feelings of the House. The hon. Member for Finsbury had, by his tone and manner, and his running commentaries, seemed to invite the attention of the House to the matters contained in the petition, and thus seemed to identify himself with it. He invited the House to pronounce a decision on the question whether it was conducive to the interests of the country that this species of petitions should be allowed to circulate?


said, that in his opinion a more absurd reason could not be given for the rejection of the petition than that urged by the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford—that the petition could not be received on the ground that it was opposed to the general opinion of the House. Why, this was the very kind of petitions which were required, and which the House ought to throw its doors wide open to receive. Petitions which agreed with the House were not petitions that were required. It was the duty of the House to receive every petition that was sent to it. If once the House were to be gin to refuse petitions, whore could they draw the line of distinction? The House was perhaps not aware that the petition was signed, not by some ignorant Chartist, but by a gentleman who had gone through the University, and was now a clergyman of the Church of England. He thought that it was the duty of the House to receive petitions from all portions of the people, whatever might be the sentiments which they expressed.


was extremely sorry to be compelled, by the course taken by his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford, to pronounce an opinion on a matter of such extreme importance. He felt as anxious as any hon. Member in that House to offer no obstruction to the presentation of petitions; and he was rejoiced that the House had allowed the petition to be read, because without hearing it he did not think that they could deliberately pro- nounce an opinion whether they could sanction it to the extent of allowing it to lie on the table. He agreed with his hon. Friend that it would be inconsistent with their loyalty to the Sovereign, and with the institutions of the country, to receive a petition seeking for the abolition of the kingly Government, and the substitution of a republic. The form of government established in this country was a Government by King, Lords, and Commons, and he thought that a line should be drawn, and that no petition should be allowed to lie on their table that dealt with the fundamental principles of the Government. He had not had time to weigh the matter with the care which it required, but he felt that the Government of this country was no less a kingly Government than it was one formed by two Houses of Parliament also; and if a petition for the abolition of the former could not be received, neither, he thought, could they receive a petition for the abolition of one of the Houses of the Legislature.


wished to know whether it had not been the custom of the House to allow petitions to be received for the ejection of Bishops from the House of Lords. He thought, that if such petitions were allowed to be received by the House, there could be no reason to believe that the House was unable to receive petitions praying for the total abolition of the House of Peers. He did not express any sympathy, and probably no hon. Member in the House would express sympathy with the whole of the contents of the petition. He was sure that, with regard to this particular petition, the only effect of this discussion would be to raise the petitioner in his own estimation, and turn the public attention to the discussion of questions which the House did not wish to have discussed. If the House determined not to receive the petition, he was sure that it would only lead to the presentation of other similar objectionable petitions. He would express no opinion whatever upon this petition; that was a matter of minor importance, but he considered it of enormous importance that the House should not take a false step on the present occasion.


did not think that the right hon. Baronet had put the case fairly. Any person in that House or out of it might express an opinion—which he thought would be a foolish one—that the House of Lords ought to be abolished, without committing an offence against the law; whereas no person could legally express an opinion in favour of the abolition of the Monarchy. He thought, therefore, that it was no argument to say that a petition not containing an illegal prayer should be rejected, because a petition for another object highly treasonable, and for which a person would become liable to severe punishment, should also be refused.


thought that the question of the Monarchy had been introduced into the debate most unnecessarily. It was an entirely different question from the consideration whether one legislative body or two were more suited to the wants and interests of the country. As the question had been opened, he trusted that the petition would not be rejected.


concurred in the views of the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham). He thought the petition ought to be rejected.


had reason to complain of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford for having referred to him as approving of all that the petition contained. He utterly denied that Members of that House were supposed to concur in all the petitions that were presented by them. Now, as these were times when persons ought to speak plainly, he would not hesitate to say that he agreed in a great measure with the prayer of the petition; but he did not agree in that part of it which related to the abolition of the House of Lords, because he sincerely believed that under the form of government which they had in this country more liberty might be enjoyed by the people than under any other. He believed that under the existing form of government the greatest extent of human liberty might be enjoyed by the British people. But was it to be supposed that the people were to reflect on what views would be agreeable to the House before they ventured to send a petition to it? For his own part, he should be delighted if he never received another petition for presentation, and if his constituents would select some other hon. Member to send their petitions to, because he thought that there was not the slightest good in sending petitions to that House when they met with no attention whatever.


protested against the doctrine that there was no use in sending petitions to that House. For his own part, whenever he had an opportunity of addressing his constituents, he invariably held out to them the wholesome doctrine of mating their sentiments known to the House of Commons; and he believed that in doing so he acted more to his own credit, and more to the satisfaction of the House and the public, than the hon. Member for Finsbury. He had held a seat in the House for many years, and he could most positively deny that the petitions of the people were treated with disrespect. True, it sometimes happened that one description of petitions met with more favour than others; but the people were aware of this, and they felt that it was utterly impossible that all petitions could be treated alike. With regard to the particular question before the House, he thought there could not be a shadow of a doubt that all petitions of the people that were respectfully worded ought to be received; and he hoped, in giving his vote upon this occasion, it would not be understood that he was expressing any opinion upon the views the petition contained. If the Motion of the hon. Baronet was acceded to, it would interfere with the right enjoyed by the people of petitioning that House on all subjects affecting their welfare. It would, he thought, have been much better if, instead of the public attention having been called to the subject, it had been passed over.


should exceedingly regret if the House were obliged to divide on this question, lest their vote should be misunderstood, because he felt satisfied that those who should think fit to vote in favour of the petition would not differ from the remainder of the House in the determination to uphold the constitution of Queen, Lords, and Commons. He believed that the immense majority of that House entertained on this question the same opinion with the immense majority of the people of this realm, who, however desirous they might be to see improvements introduced, were determined to uphold that great constitution under which they enjoyed more of security, and of liberty, and of happiness, than had been ever imparted by Providence to any other portion of the human race. But that was not the question before the House, and if forced to divide, he should certainly note with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department in favour of the petition being received. If a petition contained improper and scurrilous language against another branch of the Legislature, he thought that the House would be bound to feel as jeal- ous of the honour of the other House as they should of their own; but in the present case the petitioner merely expressed an opinion, from which he totally differed; but he could not on that account feel justified in refusing to receive the petition, when he found that it was respectfully worded. No one would object to the House receiving a petition for the abolition of the Established Church, or for the expulsion of the Bishops from the House of Lords; and he thought it was dangerous for them to attempt drawing a line of distinction as to where they were to stop.


hoped his hon. Friend (Sir R. H. Inglis) would not divide the House. He understood that the House had received petitions on several occasions for a repeal of the Union between England and Ireland, which he would venture to say was a subject less within the powers of the House to entertain than even the matter before them. Though no man was more attached to the House of Lords than he was, still he should feel himself obliged to vote on this occasion against the Motion of the hon. Baronet.


, in explanation, said it was with no common pleasure he had heard from all sides of the House a repudiation of the doctrines contained in the petition. Under these circumstances the object he had in view, though not technically gained, had been substantially obtained, and therefore he would not divide the House.

Petition ordered to lie upon the table.

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