HC Deb 18 June 1868 vol 192 cc1750-2

MR. C. FORSTER moved that the Special Report of the Public Petitions Committee of the 28th of May last be read; but that, in the case of those Petitions to which the Report refers, the Order of the House that they do lie upon the Table be read and discharged. The hon. Member said, he had to bring under the notice of the House a Breach of Privilege, committed in the case of these Petitions. By the Standing Orders it is required that every Petition shall bear at least one signature on the sheet containing the Prayer of the Petition, and Petitions are frequently returned to lion. Members because this regulation is not complied with. But in the case of these Petitions an attempt was made to render them formally correct by taking a signature from the body of the Petition and placing it on the sheet containing the Prayer. Examination showed that this had been done in the case of 100 Petitions. The facts are admitted by the party implicated, who says he was not aware that he was committing a Breach of Privilege: and as he is now aware of the impropriety of his conduct, and is in an infirm state of health, the Committee of Public Petitions think sufficient punishment will be inflicted by discharging the Petitions. If, however, other cases of a similar character are brought before the Committee, they will adopt a much more severe course.

Special Report of the Committee [28th May] read.


said, he thought the Motion deserving of consideration by the House, as a question arose whether the rules at present in force were judicious, and ought to be maintained for the future. It was well known that many bonâ fide Petitions were presented with every intention of complying with the rules of the House, and yet were often returned to the Committee on Public Petitions as being informal. The hon. Gentleman, as Chairman of the Committee, had called the attention of the House to the fact of certain Petitions having had no signatures on the side on which the Petition was written. Now, if the rule of the House were complied with, the security it afforded only amounted to this, that there was one bonâ fide signature required to be on the same side, so that a hundred Petitions might be accepted, provided this condition were fulfilled. He thought this was straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel, and that it would not bear the scrutiny of common sense; and it would be desirable that the Select Committee on Petitions should revise the rules, and consider whether they might not be improved, so that persons anxious to comply with the Orders of the House should not fall into a trap unawares, and have their Petitions rejected. There was another rule, of which the propriety was also very questionable, that no Petition should be received by the House that was printed. The object, he supposed, was to take precautions that the actual words professing to embody the sentiments of the petitioners should emanate from themselves, and not be suggested to them by some one else. But did the rules really accomplish that object? They knew perfectly well that some person clever in expressing himself concisely was employed to draw up the form of a Petition; they were sent round, and the petitioners had only the trouble of getting some person who wrote neatly to copy out the Petition again. He was not aware that the House derived any advantage from insisting on the observance of that rule, and he thought it desirable that the Committee should consider it and see whether this was so. It was right that petitioners should have their views brought before the House, and not have their Petitions rejected from unintentional breaches of its rules.

Motion agreed to.

Order, That, in the case of these Petitions to which the Report refers, they do lie upon the Table, read, and discharged.—(Mr. Charles Forster.)

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