HC Deb 16 March 1865 vol 177 cc1735-8

brought up a Special Report of the Public Petitions Committee, as follows:— Your Committee having further examined the Signatures to the Petitions relating to the case of Prince Azeem Jah, think it right to state that, from information they have received, there are strong grounds for believing that the Signatures of many persons, some of them being resident in the immediate neighbourhood of the Houses of Parliament, which have been attached to the Petition of Inhabitants of the City of Westminster, presented on the 9th instant, are forgeries; they have also reason to suspect that many Signatures to other Petitions on the same subject are fictitious. The hon. Member in moving that the Report be laid upon the table said, that, on a previous evening the hon. Member for the King's County (Mr. Hennessy) complained that in mentioning the forgery of the signatures he had taken an unusual course, inasmuch as it was common for parties to have their names written to petitions by others, and that when this came to the knowledge of the Committee they merely stated the fact in an appendix to their Report. No doubt the cases the hon. Member alluded to were violations of the Rules of the House, but the present case did not come within the same category, but was one deeply involving the right of petitioning the House. The signatures were attached to the petition without the knowledge or consent of the parties whose names they were represented to be. He therefore had a right to complain of the allusion made by the hon. Member for the King's County to his having mentioned the forgeries with a view to influence the debate on the case of Azeem Jah. On behalf of himself and the Committee, of which he was Chairman, he repudiated in the strongest terms that he or they had been influenced by any such motives. If he had been so influenced he would be rendered unworthy not only to act as Chnirman of that Committee but to be a Member of any other Committee, and he had yet to learn that it was consistent with Parliamentary usage to impute motives to an hon. Member who endeavoured honestly and faithfully to discharge duties which he had undertaken at the request and for the convenience of the House. With these remarks he would leave the matter in the hands of the House. It was for them to consider whether enough had been done to vindicate the privileges of the House, or whether there should be further inquiry. If they wished for further inquiry the usual course was to refer the subject to a Committee, who should have power to examine witnesses and send for papers.


said, that having had charge of two of the petitions he wished to say that before he presented them he adopted the same course which he did with all other petitions he was intrusted with—endeavoured, so far as he could, by examination, to see that the signatures were genuine. He thought the Committee ought to have stated the grounds on which they believed these particular signatures were forgeries. It was impossible for a person always to ascertain whether the signatures to petitions he presented were genuine or not.


said, as a Member of the Committee he disclaimed any intention on their part to prejudice the Motion in the case of Azeem Jah, they only reported the forgeries in discharge of what they conceived to be their duty to the House. They had reason to believe that a large number of the signatures were fraudulent, and as this was clearly an abuse of the right of petition some public notice ought to be taken of it.


said, that the motives and conduct of the hon. Member for Walsall (Mr. Charles Forster) were so far above suspicion that it was unnecessary to say anything in his defence. It was, however, unlucky that just as his hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Sir FitzRoy Kelly) was rising to bring forward his Resolution the hon. Member should have said something so calculated to prejudice the Motion.


said, he gave the hon. Member for Walsall the fullest credit for the mode which he had taken to discharge his public duty; hut having presented a petition on Tuesday last from Brighton in favour of the claim of Azeem Jah, he wished to state that it was brought to him by one of his constituents, that he had taken the trouble to look over it, and that he could vouch that it was properly signed.


said, he could assure the hon. Member for Walsall that he was the last Member of that House to whom he should attribute any improper motive. He did, however, think that the mentioning of the fact by the hon. Member was calculated to prejudice the debate, and he was borne out in this view by the report of what took place. After the hon. Member for Walsall resumed his seat, another hon. Member (Mr. Vansittart)— Hoped his hon. and learned Friend (Sir F. Kelly) would postpone the Motion of which he had given notice, in consequence of the statement which had just been made. So that the statement of the hon. Member for Walsall did prejudice the case. Last week the Committee of Petitions stated in a note to their Report— Your Committee have, in the ease of the petitions from Romford, North Ockenden, and Ossett, presented by Mr. Bramston; and Enham ami Andover, by Mr. Beach, reported to the House the number of names appended thereto, but they are of opinion that many of them are not in the handwriting of the persons whose names are attached, and that the Orders of the House, which require that every petition must be signed by the parties whose names are appended thereto by their names or marks, and by no one else, except in ease of incapacity by sickness, have not been complied with. A week before the Committee made a similar complaint, and the practice was of common occurrence. It did, therefore, seem to him undesirable that special notice should be taken just when the subject-matter of these petitions was coming before the House.


said, he thought that the remarks of the hon. Member for the King's County ought not to pass without correction. During the whole of his experience of eighteen years as a Member of the Committee on Public Petitions he had never seen so gross a fraud as that now brought under the notice of the House. It was not a case in which one or two names had been attached with or without the knowledge of the parties, but one petition on the face of it appeared to be fraudulent from first to last. The very first name was proved to be a forgery, and the Committee thought it their duty to bring the matter before the House, but without the slightest intention to prejudice the debate.


said, he had presented the petition now under discussion. He regretted that the Committee had not first communicated with him, so that he might have made some further inquiry. Were Members who represented large constituencies expected to ascertain the genuineness of every signature to the petitions they presented? It was a mere question of degree. He looked over the petition, and saw that the usual forms of the House were observed, and he had no reason to believe that any of the signatures were forgeries. If it were held to be a fault on the part of a Member presenting a petition that some signatures were fraudently attached, then the House ought to take some course to protect the Members for large constituencies.

Report to lie upon the table.