HC Deb 25 April 1887 vol 313 cc1776-9

Leave given to the Select Committee on Public Petitions to make a Special Report.

Special Report brought up, and read as followeth:—

Special Report of the Select Committee on Public Petitions.

Tour Committee have from time to time published, for the information of Members, the Orders and Practice of the House which regulate the framing and presentation of Public Petitions. Amongst other Rules is the following:—

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 case of incapacity by sickness.

Your Committee, whenever instances of the disregard of this Order have come under their notice, have reported them to the House, but they observe with regret that, in spite of such publicity, Petitions more or less in contravention of this Rule are frequently presented.

Your Committee hare this clay under their consideration a Petition in which the violation of this Rule is so marked that they feel bound to report the same to the House.

It is headed "The Humble Petition of Ratepayers of Haggerston," and its Prayer is in favour of the Bill for the Continuance of the London Coal and Wine Duties.

Your Committee observe that upon the sheet containing the Prayer of the Petition there is one signature which appears to be authentic, but all the subsequent names, the whole number being 449, appear to your Committee to he in the handwriting of two or three persons, who have afterwards smeared the signatures with ink, and adopted means to render thorn difficult to read, and therefore less likely to be detected.

Your Committee consider that the affixture to a Petition of a large number of names, purporting to be those of persons seeking redress from this House, such names being appended by some other persons than the presumed Petitioners, is calculated to mislead the House as to the character of the Petition, is a distinct violation of the Privileges of this House, and calls for some mark of its disapproval.


I very much regret to trouble the House with this special Report; but the Committee on Public Petitions are of opinion that it is not a matter which ought to be passed over in silence. The Petition of which they complain is one from Haggerston in favour of the continuance of the Coal and Wine Duties, and it purports to bear upwards of 400 signatures. The great mass of the signatures, however, have been fabricated by some four or five individuals. Of this fact there is internal evidence, although the signatures have been smeared over in order to render detection difficult, if not impossible. The offence is one which this House has always treated with more or less severity. During the time that I have been Chairman of the Committee on Public Petitions, now more than 22 years, the usual practice has been when a Report of this kind has been presented, to discharge the order for laying such Petitions on the Table; and the Committee have instructed me to make a Motion to that effect on the present occasion. In some instances, steps have been taken to bring the offenders to punishment. That course was adopted in 1865; out the offence, in that case, was of a more serious character, and the House directed an inquiry. A Committee was appointed, of which I had the honour to be Chairman, and the result of the investigation was that the offender was committed to Newgate for the rest of the Session. I have not been instructed to ask the House to take that course on this occasion, but simply to move that the Order of the House for laying the Petition upon the Table be discharged. The Committee are of opinion that no spurious Petition should be allowed to be on the Table; and, under the circumstances, I beg, in the name of the Committee, to move that the Order that the said Petition be allowed to be on the Table, be read and discharged.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Order [6th April], that the Petition of Ratepayers of Haggerston, in favour of the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Bill, do lie upon the Table, be read, and discharged."—(Sir Charles Forster.)

MR. BEADLAUGH (Northampton)

I trust that something further will be done in this matter, and I hope that the hon. Baronet, on behalf of the Committee on Public Petitions, will take some stronger action. The reason I have for expressing this hope is this—I do not know whether I should be in order in referring to evidence which has been taken by a Committee of this House now sitting upstairs, but which has not yet been laid on the Table. If I am not in Order, of course I will not do so.


The course suggested by the hon. Member would certainly be contrary to the general practice of the House.


Then I will not refer to that evidence; but will simply say that I have strong reasons for knowing that money is being largely spent in collecting signatures to such Petitions; and I think the House ought not to permit themselves to be misled as they have been misled before, and may, probably, be misled again, by the presentation of Petitions which the Chairman of the Committee on Public Petitions has very properly characterized as bogus Petitions, contracted for at so much per hundred. I do not know whether the hon. Baronet proposes to make his Motion stronger than it stands at present, or, if not, whether it will be competent for some other hon. Member to move an Amendment.


I have not been instructed by the Committee on Public Petitions to do more than to move the discharge of the Order directing the Petition to be on the Table; but it is quite competent for the hon. Member to make a Motion.


Then I beg to move that a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the bona fides of this Petition.


I beg to second the Amendment.


So far as I and the Committee on Public Petitions are concerned, we are prepared to leave the matter in the hands of the House.


DO I understand the hon. Member for Northampton to move an Amendment?


I would ask you, Sir, whether it is competent for me to allow the Motion of the hon. Baronet to be carried, and then to follow it up with a Motion for the appointment of a Select Committee on a subsequent day?


It will be competent for the hon. Member to submit an Amendment in the event of the debate being adjourned. If the debate is adjourned, the hon. Gentleman would have time to consider what Amendment he ought to move; or, if he prefers that course, he can move an Amendment at once. Perhaps the hon. Member will consider it the better course to move the adjournment of the debate, so that the matter may be brought under the full consideration of the House.


Acting, Sir, upon your suggestion, I beg to move that the debate be now adjourned.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Bradlaugh,)—put, and agreed to.


To what day?


This day week.

Debate adjourned till Monday next.

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