HC Deb 12 May 1851 vol 116 cc931-5

The EARL of ARUNDEL and SURREY moved, pursuant to notice— That the Order of the House (8th May), that the Petition of the Rev. Pierce Connelly be printed for the use of Members only, be read, for the purpose of being discharged.


thought that this might not be agreed to as a matter of course. The allegations of the petition were so extraordinary, affected so many persons, and, in reference to the circumstances of the day, were so important, that there was some danger that the House, in agreeing to this Motion, would open up a long controversy of personalities and recriminations. And, without asking the noble Earl to postpone the Motion, he (Mr. Stafford) would beg of him to state the course which he contemplated taking.


said, that the character of the petition and the excitement of the period in which it was brought forward, supplied the reasons why he now made this Motion. The petition made grave charges against various persons; and, in his opinion, he believed mischief would arise if they only obtained a half publicity. When the Motion was made in the Committee on Public Petitions that this petition should be printed for the use of Members only, he moved that it be printed in the ordinary manner, and having failed in that, he now moved that it be not printed at all. All that he wanted was that there should be a proper inquiry; and, as a matter of justice, he demanded of the House, that it would consent to the Motion he had now made. It was necessary to have certain information, and that a full investigation should be instituted; and he was satisfied in his own mind that the result of the inquiry would be to prove that this petition was one string of gross misrepresentations.


said, as Chairman of the Committee on Petitions, the House would perhaps allow him to explain the reasons which had actuated the Committee in this matter. The petition had given rise to considerable difficulty, and the question as to its disposal had been postponed once or twice. This petition related to very important questions now before the House, and its authority was guaranteed, as far as it was possible, by the name of an hon. Member of the House having been placed among the signatures attached to it. The Committee found that they could not take the ordinary course, in consequence of the seriousness of the allegations made, and after much discussion and deliberation they had concluded that it was their duty to print the petition for the use of Members only. Further consideration of the matter was undoubtedly required; and he agreed with the hon. Member for North Northamptonshire (Mr. Stafford) that the Motion ought to remain over.


did not see why the Motion of his noble Friend should not be agreed to. Some 656 of the petitions had already been printed, and it was absurd to suppose that this amounted to privacy. The public would want to know what was in the petition, and if there were calumnies in the case, no flimsy veil of secrecy should be thrown over them.


said, that he was the individual who, in the Committee, had moved the restricted printing of the petition, and he believed that the House would come to the conclusion that the grounds on which he rested the propriety of that measure were satisfactory. The petition contained the gravest accusations against individuals; but they were accusations with which it was desirable that the House should be made acquainted, because they referred to a system which an hon. Member had obtained leave to bring in a Bill to supervise. So long as the petition was confined to Members only, no informer could avail himself of the statements it contained; but if it were made a public document, the House would run the risk of seeing another Stockdale versus Hansard, or even another Howard case.


did not see that the difficulty alluded to by the hon. Baronet was likely to arise. He concurred in the Motion of the noble Lord (the Earl of Arundel and Surrey), but he thought that their attention had not been called to the fact, that these papers had been made as public as the proceedings in the Ecclesiastical Court could make them. Another matter he wished to allude to—whether the point of honour alluded to by the noble Lord was so important as to make it incumbent for any hon. Member who received a paper like a copy of this petition under the restrictions specified, to refrain from taking the necessary steps to enable him to verify or disprove the statements? He saw no reason in the world why he should not put himself into communication with one and all of the parties referred to in the petition, and this was a strong reason why he should agree to the Motion.


would vote which ever way the noble Lord (the Earl of Arundel and Surrey) desired. Having been intimately acquainted with the petitioner for some years, he had seen all the documents connected with the case; and, for his part, he saw no possible objection to having them printed.


said, that the Committee on Printed Papers, which sat some years ago, expressed an opinion that Members need not feel themselves precluded by a feeling of honour from instituting any inquiry into the facts of a petition printed for the use of Members only, for the purpose of determining whether the statements contained in the petition were true or false. If the noble Lord (the Earl of Arundel and Surrey), therefore, desired to investigate the allegations contained in this petition, he was at liberty to do so; but as the Printing Committee had come to the resolution that the petition should be printed only for the use of Members, he thought that the House ought to support that decision.


did not in any degree blame the Committee on Public Petitions for the course they had taken. He begged to ask if he was at liberty to place the petition in the hands of such as might be able to satisfy him on the subject?


thought it impossible that this matter could be allowed to rest. Public anxiety would be excited to obtain access to the petition, which was known to contain most slanderous charges. Why should it be circulated among upwards of 650 Members, and denied to the public? He thought that on the grounds of fair play and common justice, the request of the noble Lord should be acceded to, and that the petition should be generally circulated.


thought that all due caution should be exercised in a matter of this sort. He trusted that the right hon. Baronet (Sir George Grey) would be able to assure the House that if the Motion were agreed to, it would not place the House in any position of difficulty.


could give no such assurance. The petition contained matter deemed grossly slanderous, and it had therefore come under that class of petitions which the Committee conceived should be only printed for the use of Members.


said, the course that had been already taken had all the disadvantages, with few of the advantages, of the course now proposed. They had done all the moral mischief that was likely to result from publication by printing 650 copies, many of which, he had no doubt, had been extensively read.


had read the petition, and he must say that he had never seen any petition presented to that House containing charges of a more serious nature. The character of persons who ought to have stood well with the public was seriously attacked; and he thought that the Committee had exercised a sound discretion in printing the petition for the use of Members only. He would certainly vote against the Motion, unless the noble Lord (the Earl of Arundel and Surrey) would bring the subject-matter of the petition under the notice of the House. If the noble Lord would say that he intended bringing it before the House, he (Sir Benjamin Hall) would at once vote for the printing of the petition. Unless the noble Lord gave him that assurance, he would give his vote in favour of the course which had been pursued by the Committee.


would not consent to the printing of the petition, if it were to involve the House in circumstances of difficulty, such as they had experienced three or four years ago.


said, the Committee had discussed the subject at more than one sitting, and they were of opinion that they had adopted the wisest and the safest course.


said, the Committee had published 658 copies of the slander. He did not see why the Motion should not be carried. The noble Lord (the Earl of Arundel and Surrey) only wished that the slanders should be known.


thought the view taken of the matter by the hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) was the correct one. If it could be shown to be necessary that the petition should be made known to the whole world, they might carry this Motion. It was perfectly clear that the parties whose characters were affected by it were perfectly cognisant of it; it could not, therefore, be necessary that the petition should be published to the whole world for parties to contradict it. The real question was, whether they should publish to the whole world that which was asserted to be a libel. He thought the decision of the Committee was a wise and prudent decision, and he trusted the House would support it.


said, the Committee were under considerable embarrassment, owing to a Bill being before the House which related to the subject-matter of the petition, and they did not wish to be charged with suppressing facts; and, on the other hand, they did not wish to circulate libels throughout the country.


wished to know whether he was to understand that the more slanderous a petition was, the more they were to deny to parties the right of contradicting the slanderous allegations? He thought they ought to proceed on an opposite principle, and therefore he would vote for the publication.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Order of the House be read for the purpose of being discharged."

The House divided:—Aves 41; Noes 131: Majority 90.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.