HC Deb 17 June 1852 vol 122 cc863-6

presented a petition from the Legislative Council of New South Wales, embodying their solemn protest against the late Act of the 13 & 14 Vict., establishing a new Constitution in that Colony, remonstrating strongly against the restrictions it imposed upon the Colonial Legislature; representing that they alone possessed the power of taxing the Colonists; and, particularly, that they were entitled to the disposition of the waste lands, and the funds produced by sales thereof.


begged to suggest, that as this petition was a document of much historical importance, that it should be read by the clerk at the table.

Motion agreed to; Petition read accordingly.

On the Question that the petition be laid on the table,


said, that he quite agreed that the petition was one of great importance, but that he had not had an opportunity of looking at it beforehand, though he saw several hon. Members had been provided with printed copies of it. It struck him, in listening to the petition, that there were many expressions in it which appeared not to be very dutiful or proper. Thus, Her Majesty was described as being only "the trustee" of what were her own dominions, and there were several other expressions which appeared very equivocal; therefore, he would rather postpone the question, in order that they might have an opportunity of considering the petition and the phrases alluded to.


said, he considered the petition one of a very peculiar and important character. It had been presented by one of Her Majesty's servants (the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland), as he understood; and, if there was any irregularity about it, he conceived the noble Lord, before he presented it, would have consulted his Colleagues. However, so far as he (Sir J. Graham) saw, he was not aware of any irregularity or any impropriety about the phrases of the petition. The statements of the petition were worthy of the most serious attention of that House. It appeared that the Colony undertook, if certain grievances were redressed, willingly to bear all the several expenses of their own Government which were now home by this country, and which were every day becoming more and more onerous to the people.


said, that if the petition contained any expression disrespectful to the Queen, it ought not to be brought up. As it had not been received, it might be postponed till to-morrow, to see if that were the case.


said, he considered it would he a great insult if the petition were rejected after it had been read at the table. The petition had been entrusted to him and to the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland, but by some accident his copy had never reached him.


said, that the question was not whether the petition should be rejected or not, hut only whether they should bring it up. He was quite ready to admit the greater part of the petition contained very valuable and important matters, which ought to be brought under the consideration of the House; hut, never having seen the petition, and it having been presented by the noble Lord merely in his capacity as a Member of that House, and not as a Member of the Government, it certainly had occurred to him and to his right hon. Friend, when they heard it read, that the phrase that Her Majesty was only trustee of her own dominions was one which had never been adopted or recognised in that House before. They did not say the petition ought to be rejected; but that before it was received by the House it was proper to consider the phraseology of it, that they might decide if there was any objection to a phrase which might he used as a precedent at some future period.


Sir, I am partly responsible, I think, for the prominence given to this petition; and I wish to exonerate myself from the impropriety suggested. I read the petition before it was presented; and it certainly did not appear to me that there was any phrase to which objection could be justly taken. I am not surprised that the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have been struck by the expression referred to on hearing the petition read for the first time. But it is evident that the phrase is only used in a sense in which it is perfectly open to be used, and more especially by a Colonial Legislature, for the phrase is not at all in respect to Her Majesty's "dominions," but simply in respect to the waste lands of the Colony, which are specially the subjects of sale, and to the funds that proceed from the sale. This being so clearly, I should regret greatly—not to say the rejection, but—any delay in the reception of this petition. The noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland is evidently primarily responsible for its presentation; and I am sure that the noble Lord would not have presented a petition of such great political and constitutional importance without having satisfied himself that its phraseology was free from all objection. I would deeply regret any hesitation in receiving the petition; for it would give rise to misapprehensions better to be avoided.


said, he quite agreed with the right hon. Gentleman. The waste lands in Australia, which had belonged to the casual revenues of the Crown, had been surrendered to the public by the Civil List Act at the commencement of Her Majesty's reign, and might be made applicable to the use of the Colony by a Minute signed by three Lords of the Treasury. Therefore, in using the expression "trustee" in connexion with the name of Her Majesty, the petitioners referred to the Executive Government; and, consequently, used language of a strict propriety. To throw any doubt upon the reception of this petition, would be to put an affront of the strongest kind upon the Colony. If the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer persevered, he (Mr. Ellice), for one, would be prepared to come to a vote on the question.


Sir, I will only observe, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, that I cannot accede to the theory that Her Majesty and the Executive Government are synonymous. That is not a fact. Respecting the general observations made, I must say my objection to the phrase remaining, that I do not find the contents of the petition soften that phrase as much as I could wish. But, considering that we do not wish to interfere in this instance, I won't press my ob- jection. At the same time, I feel that I only did my duty in taking the course I did.


said, he must deny that he had represented the Crown and the Executive Government as synonymous terms. He had only said that in this petition the peculiar circumstances of the transfer being-known, the Executive Government only was referred to.


Sir, I am the last person, I hope the House will think, to present any petition to this House containing terms in the least degree disrespectful to Her Majesty. When this petition was placed in my hands I read it carefully; and I did not observe in it any expressions disrespectful to Her Majesty. Of course I am not supposed to agree with the statement or argument of the petition; but when it was handed to me I felt that I had no other duty to perform than to present it.

Petition ordered to lie on the table.