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Parliament—Privilege—Public Petitions—Irregularity Of Signatures

Volume 229: debated on Friday 12 May 1876

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Personal Explanation

I rise to ask the indulgence of the House, Sir, whilst I offer an explanation with regard to a matter which is personal to myself. It is perfectly right and justifiable on the part of the hon. Member for Bury to have given the Notice of opposition to the Motion, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Dundalk (Mr. Callan), so as to prevent that Motion coming on at an unreasonable hour of the night, since the Notice involves a wide issue, which ought not to be carelessly treated in an exhausted House. But I have been placed in a very anomalous position. It will be in the recollection of the House that, on the 6th of April, I moved the discharge of the Order for a Petition from Chatham, which bore my name, or on which what purported to be my name was endorsed. The hon. Member for Dundalk then gave Notice, and he had a perfect right to give Notice, of the Motion to inquire into my conduct with respect to that Petition; but the effect of that Notice standing upon the Paper from the 7th of April till the present day, with the exception of one day only, has been that I have been unable to answer Questions, which have been put to me with respect to the appearance of my name as endorsed upon the Petition from Chatham, upon a Petition from Broad stairs, upon a Petition from Avebury, upon a Petition from Kensington, and upon a Petition from Leicester. Three of the Petitions I have mentioned are similar in substance with the Petition from Chatham, and have been discharged. When the Question as to the Petition from Chatham was before the House on the 6th of April, I declared my belief that my name had been improperly endorsed upon that Petition, and the House, upon my Motion, on the ground of Privilege, ordered the discharge of that Petition. On the next day I was asked by the hon. Member for Dundalk, in the debate which arose upon his Motion for the discharge of three other Petitions, whether my name had been, with my authority, attached to the Petition from Broad stairs, to the Petition from Avebury, and to the Petition from Kensington? The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Whitbread) also put the same question, and I replied that, from want of Notice, I could not answer these questions. Afterwards, on the 10th of April, the hon. Member for Dundalk gave Notice of his intention to question me with regard to the appearance of my name on a similar Petition—the Petition from Leicester. That question was put whilst the Notice for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the circumstances connected with my name having appeared upon the Chatham Petition stood on the Paper for that day. Both Notices were adjourned until the following day, Tuesday, the 11th of April, when you, Sir, ruled that my answering the question which was then put to me by the hon. Member for Dundalk with respect to the Petition from Leicester was irregular. I now, Sir, claim the indulgence of the House while I read a letter from the only person to whom I have ever entrusted authority to endorse my name upon any Petition—namely, my private secretary. Sir, I have been betrayed by my private secretary, who was himself deceived with respect to these Petitions. I expressed my strong opinion that, although not irregular, the allegations in those Petitions were impolitic and imprudent, and I stated to the House that they were such as I had beforehand remonstrated against being inserted in any Petition that I might be asked to present in support of an inquiry as to Monastic and Conventual Institutions. This letter is from the only competent witness who was absent on the 6th and 7th of April when, the questions were first put to me with, respect to the Chatham and the other Petitions. In his absence I could not, for want of information, answer those questions. The letter is addressed to myself, and is as follows:—

"3, Arlington Street, Piccadilly,
"April 25th, 1876.
"Sir,—I beg to inform you that the Petitions from Chatham, Broadstairs, and Leicester came into my hands late in the afternoon of Tuesday, March 28th, just before you were about to present Petitions. I certainly did not give them so much attention as I otherwise should, because I had, by your directions, been in communication with the persons from whom I received them and had their assurance that the recommendation I had sent them by your orders as to the form, according to which these Petitions should be prepared would be attended to. In looking over the Petitions before affixing your name I noticed several of the leading paragraphs to be in accordance with the forms I had by your direction forwarded to the promoters, and I too hastily concluded that the assurance I had received meant that your recommendation had been observed throughout. I extremely regret to find that in this I was deceived. Had I not been pressed for time I should certainly have given as much attention to these Petitions as I have habitually given to others, and I should have called your attention to anything which appeared tome remarkable or objectionable in them. I believe that the Petitions from Avebury and Kensington were with the others I gave you on Tuesday, the 28th, but it is possible that these may have been reserved for presentation till Thursday, the 30th.—I remain, Sir, your obedient servant, "Wm. Hobley.
"C. N. Newdegate, Esq., M.P.,
"3, Arlington Street, Piccadilly."
That letter, Sir, is from the only person who ever had authority from me to attach my name to any Petition. I admit that it was irregular that any one should attach my name to any Petition; but for six or seven years I had employed this person, whenever there has been any large number of Petitions sent to this House for me to present, particularly with reference to the subject of Monastic and Conventuial Institutions, to bring these Petitions to my house, where we have examined them together, and I never knew him before fail to detect any objectionable matter in Petitions, or fail to inform me of it, if I did not see it myself. It is through this person having been deceived by the assurances he received from the promoters of those Petitions, that I, among other things, was betrayed into saying that I did not present the Chatham Petition. I did pre- sent it, but without being aware of its nature; and to this cause is attributable the fact that my name appears as endorsed upon Petitions to the substance of which I had beforehand most strenuously objected.

said, he had been anxious to afford the hon. Member for North Warwickshire an opportunity for explanation, and, while accepting the explanation, he must say that the hon. Member had only to thank himself for any unpleasantness which had occurred. The hon. Member was entering into the details of the occurrence, when

gave Notice, that on Monday next he should move for the discharge of the Petition that had been presented from Newark.

wished to know whether any hon. Member had a right to authorize anybody else to sign his name for him in a Petition?

wished to know whether it was not an Order of the House that hon. Members should personally examine Petitions before they presented them?

said, the Order of the House in reference to Petitions was clear. Petitions presented by hon. Members must be signed by themselves; and they were bound to acquaint themselves with the terms of Petitions before presenting them, in order that they might be certain that the language contained in them was guarded and respectful to the House.

Waterford, New Ross, And Wexford Junction Railway (Sale) Bill

On Motion of Mr. WILLIAM HENRY SMITH, Bill to enable the Great Southern and Western Railway Company and the Dublin, Wicklow, and Wexford Railway Company to purchase the Waterford, New Ross, and Wexford Junction Railway from the Public Works Loan Commissioners, and to raise money for such purpose, ordered to be brought in by Mr. William Henry Smith and Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 148.]

House adjourned at One o'clock till Monday next.