HC Deb 07 June 1850 vol 111 cc890-5

presented a petition from about 130 of the clerks in the Money Order Department of the Post Office, complaining of a gross grievance they had recently suffered in respect to the dispensation of patronage. It appeared that there had lately been a vacancy in the presidency of the department, to which the chief clerk was promoted, and he had stated to the senior clerk that he should recommend him to succeed him. Soon after, however, he had informed him that Mr. Rowland Hill, the Postmaster General's Secretary, would not recommend any one of the clerks to the vacancy in that department, unless they all signed a written statement to the effect that a certain memorial they had presented was untrue.


rose to order, urging that the hon. Member ought not to be al- lowed, on the presentation of a petition, to enter into all these statements.


said, that the hon. and learned Member had a right to state the substance of his petition, and then to read its prayer.


The clerks of the department had previously signed a document, expressive of their apology for anything that might have offended the Postmaster General, but naturally declined to declare that their memorial was false in fact, because it was, in fact, true. However, the vacancy was afterwards (contrary to the usual course of practice) filled up by a person brought from Edinburgh, who stood ten grades lower in the office than the senior clerks passed over, and who had been declared unfit on a former occasion for promotion. The hon. and learned Member, having brought up his petition, gave notice that he would bring it before the House, and he moved that it be printed "with the Votes" for that purpose.


said, it was very important for the House to consider whether they would put the country to the expense of printing for parties who might consider themselves aggrieved by the conduct of their superiors, in any of the Government departments, no matter whether it were the Customs, the Excise, or the Post Office. It was for the House to consider whether or no it was right to make Parliament a court of appeal in matters like this. For his part, he did not think it was, and he therefore put it to the House if it would not be better to leave the petition to be printed in the ordinary course of business, when it had come before the Committee on Public Petitions?


hoped the House would hesitate before they accepted the views of the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He had always understood that any party who felt himself aggrieved by the conduct of a public department could appeal to that House for redress, if there was no other channel open to him; and he thought it would be exceedingly dangerous to interfere with that principle. The right of appeal, indeed, was part of the liberty of the subject.


agreed with the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, that the House ought to hesitate in this matter. The House held the head of each public department responsible for all its proceedings; but if the House interfered between them and their employés, how could they insist on maintaining that rule?


said, that was not quite the correct view of the matter. The question was not whether the House would interfere, but whether it would listen to a complaint. He understood that one ground of complaint was, that the claims of these parties had been rejected because they had refused to work on a Sunday.


thought it would be better to defer this Motion till the petition had been before the Committee on Public Petitions.


said, the great inconvenience which resulted from stating the contents of petitions like this was, that they went forth to the world as if they were founded in truth. Now, so far from that being the case in this instance, he could assure the House that many statements in the petition were founded upon error. He should not properly discharge his duty if he did not say that most of those statements were founded in error.


suggested that the House was bound to receive petitions, but not to print them.


considered that the House ought not to entertain such petitions.


said, the hon. Member seemed to imply that there had been an objection to the reception of the petition; that was not so, the petition having been received, and the only question now was, whether it should be printed with the Votes. The Chairman of the Committee on Petitions had stated that it would shortly come before them, and they would have to decide whether it should be printed or not, before it was competent for the hon. Member to bring a Motion on the subject before the House. That was a practice which he (Sir G. Grey) thought it was very desirable the House should follow, and he hoped the hon. Member would abide by it on the present occasion.


But the Chairman of Public Petitions and several hon. Members opposite have even objected to the reception of such petitions.


hoped no limitation would be imposed upon the right of Members to present petitions, or to state the substance of them, for the present rule was a restriction of the liberty that formerly prevailed in this respect, and under which any Member might originate a discussion on the presentation of a petition. The public were apparently content with the present moderate system, but would not be likely to acquiesce in its further curtailment.


thought it was very desirable and important that they should know what the rule of the House was with regard to the printing of petitions. He understood that if an hon. Member wished to found a Motion on any petition, it was the practice to allow him to move that it be printed with the Votes. The petition under discussion appeared to refer to a subject of some importance; and, as he thought it very proper that clerks in the Post Office should be enabled to state their grievances to the House, it seemed to him that the best way of allowing them to do so was to print their petition with the Votes.


said, the only question was whether, the hon. and learned Gentleman having presented a petition, and wished it to be printed with the Votes, it was not desirable to do what they had done in other cases, rather refer the petition to the Printing Committee than to print it at once, on the ground that it would be printed by the Committee before the hon. and learned Gentleman would have an opportunity of bringing forward the subject of it by notice. There was no doubt as to the rule. If the hon. and learned Gentleman should bring forward a Motion on the subject before the petition was printed, the House would agree to the Motion for its being printed. The only question, therefore, now was rather one of expense. It must be in the discretion of every hon. Member, whether he thought he could bring forward such a Motion as to justify him to ask for the printing of a petition.


said, it was a question for the House to consider whether the complaints of the clerks in the Post Office, in the shape of a petition, should be printed or not.


thought the usual practice had been, if an hon. Gentleman considered the allegations of a petition were well founded, that he would bring forward a Motion upon it, to permit the petition to be printed with the Votes; and it would be a very unwise rule to lay down, that because a petition proceeded from clerks in any office, the House would not print their petition. The question now to be considered was, not whether that House was to be constituted a court of appeal in such a case against the superior officers of any establishment, but whether they should depart from the general usage of the House with regard to a petition to which the hon. and learned Member stated he would call the attention of the House.


referred to a similar case in the last Session of Parliament, on which he had consulted Mr. Speaker. It had always been in the power of the House to prevent the printing of a petition, although it was in the power of the hon. Member at any time to move it.


said, it was considered the better plan to refer the petition to the Printing Committee, and then the Member was not put under the necessity of giving notice of a Motion which he never intended to bring forward, merely to get the petition printed.


said, it was his intention to bring the petition and the allegations connected with the subject, under the serious consideration of Parliament; but he thought that the petition ought to be printed, and ought to be printed soon, so that the question might come under their consideration in the most convenient shape. Unfortunately, if the House now decided against him, he should have the power and influence of the Chairman of Petitions against him; for the hon. Gentleman thought that this was not a subject on which the House ought to encourage petitioners. He (Mr. Anstey) hoped that the Motion would not be rejected, and that they should not set the first departure from what had hitherto been the practice merely because Gentlemen had the honour of being clerks in the Post Office.


said, that he had given no opinion whether the petition ought to be printed or not.


said, it appeared to him the question was whether they should depart from the usual rule. Although it was a petition from clerks in a public office, yet they must remember that that was an important class, and he thought it very unwise that they should hesitate about printing the petition.


apprehended that if the petition went upstairs it would be printed as a matter of course. If it was not, the hon. and learned Gentleman would bring forward a Motion that it be printed; but he took it for granted that in forty-eight hours the petition would be in the hands of every Member.


said, if the hon. Gentleman's object was to have the peti- tion printed with the Votes, in order to draw more attention to it, that object was not in conformity with the Motion. If, on the contrary, he wished the petition to be printed in order to found a Motion upon it, though he (Lord J. Russell) thought it an unnecessary expense, he did not think the House would object to it. Motion agreed to.