§ MR. NEWDEGATE
Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a brief explanation before I put the Question which stands on the Paper in my name. On Tuesday Mr. Lord, the Chairman of the Protestant Association, came to me, and represented to me that the Evidence taken before the Select Committee on the Ecclesiastical Titles Act, and the Roman Catholic Relief Act, had been published, and that some of it appeared to him to be unfounded, and 1045 that such Evidence was given exclusively by persons who were known to be opposed to the Law which the Committee in question was appointed to consider. This gentleman accordingly asked me to present a Petition to this House from the Protestant Association, signed by him as Chairman, praying that certain other Evidence might be heard before the said Committee. I assented, and presented the Petition alluded to on the 31st of July. It was an important one, and with your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will read two paragraphs from the document. ["Order, Order!"] Or, if that course be not considered in Order, I will not persist in it, but simply state the substance of the Petition, which was to this effect, and I think it bears directly on the Orders of the House—Your Petitioners humbly submit that the Evidence in question is of such importance that it ought not to be closed until some persons have been examined, whose testimony would tend to show that the said Act is declaratory of the Common Law, whereby the independence of this country is maintained and the Prerogatives of the Crown are guarded; and that the said Act ought not to be repealed or altered otherwise than in the sense of giving effect to the Common Law.The Petitioners, then, conclude by saying that they knew that there are persons who are competent to give such evidence, and are ready and willing to be examined before the said Committee; and they, therefore, humbly prayed that an opportunity might be afforded for tendering such evidence. On Wednesday I brought this Petition down to the House, and having presented it, I moved that it be referred to the Select Committee appointed to consider the Ecclesiastical Titles Act and the Roman Catholic Relief Act. I found, Sir, on the Journals of this House, as part of the proceedings of Wednesday last, the following notice:—Ecclesiastical Titles and Roman Catholic Relief Acts—Petition of the Chairman of the Committee of the Protestant Association for an opportunity of tendering Evidence on the subject; referred to the Select Committee on the Ecclesiastical Titles and Roman Catholic Relief Acts.I may now state that the Evidence to which this Petition referred was that of—
§ MR. SPEAKER
I think that the hon. Member is rather exceeding the bounds of his inquiry. The object of his question, as I understand it, is simply to ascertain why this Petition, which was ordered to be referred to the Select Committee, was not placed before them?
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
The Evidence to which the Petitioners alluded was that of 1046 Dr. Wordsworth, the Archdeacon of Westminster; of the Rev. Dr. M'Neile, of Sir Joseph Napier, ex-Chancellor for Ireland; and of Mr. Lord himself, a barrister, and a gentleman, who has published a work containing very valuable information on the subjects the Committee were appointed to hear evidence and to consider and to report upon. The Petition was, therefore, I submit, an important one as regarded the matter in question. Well, Sir, after this Order of the House, which appears on its Journals, I naturally concluded that the Petition would certainly reach the Committee, and under that impression I left London on the next day, Thursday. Subsequently, however, on the Monday following, I was surprised to hear that the Committee had already reported. And yesterday I received a Copy of the Proceedings and the Report of the Select Committee. I found, from a perusal of the proceedings, that no such Evidence as that to which the Petition referred, had been received by the Committee. I immediately came down to the House and asked a member of the Committee whom I met whether he has seen or heard anythig of this Petition, which had been ordered to be referred to the Select Committee. The Lord Advocate, the Gentleman to whom I refer, said, in reply, that he had never heard a word of it. I then went the Journal Office to ascertain who had been the Clerk of the Committee. I accordingly went to him, and asked him what had become of this Petition. He told me that he had heard nothing of it—that he did not see the Order of the House, and it had escaped his notice. I asked him to come with me to the Office of the Committee on Petitions. He did so, and at this Office the Clerk found the Petition amongst several others, and on the back of it I saw the note of the Clerk at the Table marking the Petition as referred, by Order of the House, to the Committee. I ascertained from the Clerk in the Office of the Committee on Petitions that the Petition had never been removed from that Office—had never been delivered to the Chairman when the Committee were sitting on Friday last, and that, in fact, no steps whatever had been taken to comply with the Order of the House. It appears to me, Sir, that this proves the existence of a great laxity of practice in regard to Petitions, and that it ought to be corrected as soon as possible. I therefore beg to ask Mr. Speaker, Whether it is consistent 1047 with the intention and practice of the House that, when the House has ordered a Petition to be referred to a Select Committee, no Officer or Clerk of the House should take charge of the Petition, and be required to deliver the Petition to the Chairman at the next meeting of the Committee, or otherwise to call the attention of the Committee to the Petition, which has by order of the House been referred to the Committee for their consideration, and is for this purpose in the possession of the officers of the House?
§ MR. SPEAKER
When the House refers a Petition to a Committee, it makes over that Petition to the examination and consideration of such Committee. But Petitions, whether referred or not, go in the first instance to the Journal Office, where they are examined by the Committee on Petitions. It generally happens that Petitions referred to a Special Committee have been presented by some Member of that Committee; and if he should think the subject-matter of the Petition to be of sufficient importance he brings it under the notice of the Committee. But certainly all Committees should be made acquainted with the Petitions that are ordered to be referred to them. It is certainly the duty of the Clerk to make the Committee acquainted with such Petitions. Now that is an Answer to the hon. Gentleman's Question as it appears on the Paper. If the hon. Gentleman should wish to enter upon a discussion of such points as those to which he referred, it would perhaps be better that it should be done after some previous notice of his intention, in order that the members of the Committee to whom his question refers might be present and prepared to reply to him. But, as I had to inquire into this matter, I can inform the hon. Member what had really taken place. The Committee had decided not to receive any more Evidence, and had adjourned to consider their Report. In the interim this Petition was presented to the House. The Committee had met for the purpose of considering their Report, intending not to receive any more Evidence. The Clerk, under those circumstances, had not any longer paid close attention to the Petitions that might be presented, considering that all the Evidence before the Committee had closed. When the Committee met to consider their Report, he did not mention to them that this Petition had been presented.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
I trust that the 1048 House will pardon me for detaining it so long upon this subject. I will not give any formal notice with reference to the non-delivery to the Committee of this Petition, but I hope that the practice of the House in respect to Petitions will be observed with more regularity than it appears to have been.