§ Notice taken, that the name of Mr. Newdegate, Member for North Warwickshire, had been affixed without his authority to a Petition from Chatham, in favour of the Monastic and Conventual Institutions Bill, presented upon the 30th day of March last.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
, referring to a Petition from certain members of the Protestant dissenting places of worship at Chatham, on the subject of Monastic and Conventual Institutions, which had been reported upon by the Committee on Petitions, said, he had been much surprised at hearing his name mentioned in connection with the Petition. He had been to the Committee Office and had seen the original Petition, and the name upon it purported to be his signature. His belief was that he never saw the Petition before, and was quite certain that no person could have written his name, or what purported to be his name, in the manner in which it was written with his authorization. He intended to move that the Order for the reception of the Petition be discharged, because he believed he had never presented it. This was not the first time on which he had reason to believe that his name had been written on Petitions without his consent; and he trusted that the House would bear with him for a moment in the remarks which he desired to make upon the lax practice which prevailed with regard to the practice of presenting Petitions. 1318 On Friday a gentleman came down to the House and said to him—"Mr. Newdegate, I have a great many Petitions for you." He replied—"It is too late." "Oh no," said the gentleman, "it is not, for you can put them into the bag." He (Mr. Newdegate) declined to be a party to any such transaction. He believed that the circumstance had occurred to him before, and he must express his surprise at the action of the petitioners. He believed that if the Committee on Petitions had noticed the manner in which his signature was attached the Petition would not have been printed. He was quite sure that if the attention of the Chairman (Sir Charles Forster) had been called to the Petition it would not have been printed.
§ SIR CHARLES FORSTER
as Chairman of the Committee on Petitions, said, that if his attention had been called to the Petition in question it would never have been printed. He desired to take advantage of that opportunity to call the attention of the House to the great inconvenience which arose in consequence of the lax system with regard to presenting Petitions. If cases of that kind were of frequent occurrence it would be for the House to consider whether it would not be convenient to revert to the old practice in the House of Members signing the Petitions themselves, and presenting them from their places; or, if they were signed by anybody else, it being done with the Member's express authorization.
MR. OWEN LEWIS
observed, that as he was the Member through whose instrumentality the matter had been brought to light the House would perhaps allow him to say a few words on the subject. While unreservedly accepting the statement of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) that he had neither signed the Petition nor was cognisant of its contents, he could not help observing that the hon. Member had on many occasions in that House made insinuations almost as bad against the English and Irish Catholic ladies who chose to reside in conventual establishments. The affair, he confessed, was a mysterious one, and afforded some light as to the proceedings of those persons by whom the agitation against these ladies was set on foot and as to their good faith and honourable feelings. He had no doubt that when 1319 next the hon. Member was enlarging upon the immoral and dangerous character of convents he would, as usual, point to the number of Petitions on the subject as showing that the feeling of the public was with him, but after the exposure of that day people would know what value to set upon such. An agitation which could not be conducted without fraud and forgery and making charges equally devoid of truth and decency would never injure those good and useful women, while it would leave an indelible stain upon the reputation of all connected with it.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, the language of the Petition was more fitted for Holywell Street than for that House. He regretted that the Chairman of the Committee on Petitions had not offered some explanation of the circumstances under which it had been presented. He had failed to catch from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, or from the hon. Baronet, any reprobation of the terms of the Petition. He thought it was only fair to the Catholic Members that a strict inquiry should take place into the circumstances, and he should to-morrow move for such an inquiry.
§ SIR CHARLES FORSTER
repeated that if he had been aware of the statements contained in the Petition he should not have sanctioned its being printed.
§ MR. D. ONSLOW
thought that the way in which Petitions were presented was at the present time very lax indeed. It was the duty of every Member to examine Petitions before presenting them and putting their names to them. He asked the Speaker to inform the House whether Members were bound to sign Petitions themselves or could depute another person to sign for them?
§ MR. H. HERBERT
said, he thought it was outrageous that statements of the kind contained in the Petition should be presented to the House, and he was of opinion that the fullest inquiries should be instituted into the matter.
§ MR. BUTT
considered there was a much more serious question than the character of the Petition. It ought not to be overlooked that there had been a forgery of the hon. Member's name committed, as well as one of the grossest contempts of the House; and it was a question whether the House could pass over it.
§ MR. O'SHAUGHNESSY
said, that after looking at the signature of the Petition, he found it was written in such a manner that it must have been the work of an illiterate hand, and could not have been done by any Member of the House. It was perfectly plain that this was part of a regular system, and the sooner it was put an end to the better.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
wished it to be understood that hon. Members had no right to hold him responsible for the presentation of the Petition. It happened that he had always strongly objected to any such language as was then used, and had always suggested forms of speech which would avoid allegations of this kind, that, though based only on suspicion, were made to appear as though based upon fact. He formally moved the discharge of the Order for laying the Petition on the Table of the House.
§ MR. SPEAKER
Before the Question is put to the House, I think it right to state that it is the duty of every hon. Member presenting a Petition to the House to make himself acquainted with the terms of the Petition, and to see that it is, in its language and expressions, consistent with the Rules of the House. Having satisfied himself that the Petition is consistent with the Rules of the House, it is the duty of the Member presenting the Petition to affix his name to the Petition; and it is irregular to authorize any other person to affix the name.
§ Ordered, That the Order that the said Petition do lie upon the Table be read, and discharged.
§ Petition withdrawn.
§ MR. CALLAN
As a matter of Privilege, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire having stated in his place that his signature on the Petition presented to the House from Chatham in favour of the Monastic and Conventual Institutions Bill, on the 28th of March, was not placed there by himself, or by anyone with his authority, I give Notice that to-morrow, at the meeting of the House, I will move that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into and report upon the circumstances under which the signature of the hon. Member was affixed to the Petition from Chatham presented to this House.