HC Deb 06 May 1867 vol 187 cc13-5

said, he wished to call the attention of the House to certain expressions contained in a petition presented by an hon. Member (Mr. Bright) on Friday last. The words were these— That in the apparent hopelessness of a remedy for the evils which press on their country, honourable Irishmen, however mistaken, may feel justified in resorting to force; that, in a word, there are legitimate grounds for the chronic discontent of which Fenianism is the expression, and therefore some palliation for the errors of Fenianism. Exception was taken to those expressions at the time, and he now contended that they amounted to nothing less than a justification of treason. It was hardly necessary to state that it devolved on any hon. Member who presented a petition to make himself acquainted with its terms, and see that it was temperate and respectful towards the Sovereign, the Government, and the Courts of Justice.


rose to order, objecting that this was not a question of privilege.


said, he was unable to decide the point until he had heard what the hon. Member had to say and to propose.


said, that an hon. Member was recently called to order for using certain expressions in the heat of debate. The Speaker on that occasion expressed a decided opinion as to the impropriety of applying the words "sympathizers with Fenianism" to certain Members of that House.


said, that this could not be a matter of privilege, since it referred to expressions to which an objection was taken at the time; but which were ruled by the Speaker to be perfectly admissible.


said, he wished to appeal to the amended consideration of the highest authority in that House. It could not be supposed that the right hon. Gentleman could be always ready to pronounce offhand a judgment upon the terms of a petition; and from the long period during which the hon. Member (Mr. Bright) had sat in the House, he might naturally have relied upon his not presenting a petition that was offensively worded. On the occasion to which he was referring an hon. Member (Sir Henry Edwards) having used certain expressions respecting Fenianism, the Speaker gave the following decision:— He had expressed a very decided opinion as to the impropriety of the original expression, and he now expressed as strong an opinion with respect to the words 'sympathizers with the Fenians,' because an Address of the House, in answer to the Speech from the Throne, stated that Fenianism was alike hostile to property and religion, and that it was discountenanced by all those who were engaged in the maintenance of order and religion."—[3 Hansard, clxxxvi. 885.] It would hardly be maintained that language might be used in petitions which would not be allowed in debate. In that case, petitions would be resorted to as a cloak for expressions of disloyalty, which would be out of order if uttered by a Member.


said, he understood the hon. Member to quote the petition from a newspaper report. The proper time to take an objection to a petition was either at the time of its presentation or after it had been printed by the Committee on Petitions. The hon. Member had been commenting on a petition which was not before them, and which he had not seen. Before the House could consider the question the petition should be sent for and read by the Clerk at the Table, or an authentic copy of it should be produced, due notice having been given, since there was nothing to take it out of the regular course.


I was unwilling to interrupt the hon. Member until he had an opportunity of stating what the precise matter was which he wished to bring before the House. But, having heard the hon. Gentleman so far, I have no doubt that his claim of privilege at this moment cannot be admitted. It is not as if this petition had been presented, but not observed upon at the time of presentation. It was commented upon by three hon. Gentlemen, the hon. Member himself, I think, being one of them. I then stated that if any hon. Gentleman had any objection to raise to the acceptance of the petition, that was the proper opportunity. One hon. Gentleman moved that the petition be rejected; but, after some observations made upon the subject, he withdrew that Motion. When I put the Question that the petition do lie on the table, no objection was raised. The House received the petition. It is for the House, and not for myself, to decide on the acceptance or non-acceptance of a petition. If, on mature consideration, the hon. Member thinks there is anything in the petition which ought to induce him to bring it under the consideration of the House he can give notice, and make a Motion for having the order rescinded. It is not for me to prescribe the exact terms to be used by petitioners in making known their views to this House. This is temple of free speech and of free thought. The rules with regard to the form of petitions are well known. I have only to repeat that if the hon. Member wishes to take any further action on this petition he must do so by notice.


said, that he had supported the reception of the petition. If the hon. Member had given notice of his intention to bring this subject forward, he should have felt it his duty to examine the petition. He had been unable to obtain either the petition or a copy of it.