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tition, said, that “seats for legislation person charged with a libel upon this pewere as notoriously rented as the stand- lition. What would then be the case ? ings for cattle at a fair."* If ever there Why, that the House had rejected a petiwas disrespectful language it was this, and tion that was an innocent publication. On yet the petition which contained it was the other hand, if the House rejected this received.

petition as an insult upon its dignity, it Mr. Dundas said, that in the case of would follow, as a matter of course, that, Mr. Horne Tooke the House went upon to preserve that dignity, they ought to the idea that, being a petition complain- punish those who had offered to insult it. ing of an undue return, they were bound What then would be their situation ? by the act of parliament 'to receive it, Why, a jury might acquit the persons so whatever might be its contents : though accused, and then the House would be even in that case he was of a different subject to the imputation of being too teopinion.

nacious of its dignity, and too inattentive Mr. R. Smith thought it his duty to to the rights of its constituents. All state to the House, that, having observed these inconveniences would be avoided by some passages in the petition which ap- receiving the petition. Nor were the peared to him rather strongly expressed, journals of the House without precedent he mentioned to some of the most re- upon this subject. He believed that in spectable subscribers his suspicion that 1783 a petition was received much bolder the House might possibly consider them and more irregular in its language than as disrespectful; and it was but doing the present, where the House was stated justice to them to say, that they wished to be a corrupt body. He believed that to have taken out these passages, but did the petition of Mr. Tooke was also as of not well see how it could be done, from fensive to the dignity of the House as the difficulty of collecting together no less this, or more so. He trusted the majority than 2,500 persons, for by so many was

of the House would see the danger of apthe petition signed; he was, however, sure pearing to contend with its constituents that they meant nothing disrespectful to upon the right of petitioning, and would the House.

receive this petition. If the opposition to Mr. D. P. Coke admitted that the peti- it was persisted in, he must take the sense tion might have stated its object in better of the House upon the subject. language, but he did not believe that it was Mr. Ryder was against receiving the such as to preclude it from being received. petition, merely because it was worded in It stated a certain departure in the prac- a disrespectful manner, but by no means tical part of the representative system of because he meant to contest the right of this constitution. We all knew that there the subject to petition ; on the contrary, were boroughs for which the crown, and he was for giving the present petitioners others for which certain noblemen, had an opportunity of presenting the same the nomination, and he knew they were prayer to the House, unaccompanied with very honourable men and good members observations degrading to the House. of that House. The House could not Mr. Burke observed, that with regard to consistently refuse to receive this petition the gentlemen who had signed the petition unless it was libellous, and if it was they he did not consider them as criminal in ought to prosecute its authors and advi. any great degree : for the probability was, sers for a libel, and upon that point he that the mass of them had never read it. begged leave to submit a few thoughts to The first question was, whether the House the House. In the first place, he admit- ought or ought not to receive it as it was? ted that if the petition was presented to a The advocates for receiving the petition court of law, the judges might deem it to had desired the House to keep its temper ; be a libel; but although formerly the in this they were very right; because they mode of trying libels was to leave the must be conscious they had taken some fact to the jury, and the law to the judges ; pains to provoke the House. The petiyet we all know that this practice was tion itself appeared to him such as that now altered, and the jury were to decide House could not receive consistently with upon both law and fact. In that view, its own dignity, for the audacity of the therefore, he thought it was extremely language was such as should not be tole. probable that a jury would acquit any rated, and the seditious tendency of the

whole of it was such as might become in * Sec Vol. 28, p. 922.

time dangerous if the petition was so far


konoured as to be laid on the table of of the representation, and were clearly of that House without punishing those who opinion that it was not what it ought to had advised the presenting such a peti- be. Nor could the right hon. gentleman tion : the better way therefore would be who spoke last be seriously of another. not to receive the petition at all, and if he was, Mr. Grey said, he would refer thereby to teach those who wished to pe- | the House to what that right hon. gentletition that House, that they must do in man had himself said during the American a respectful manner. This petition was When it was said, why might not only a small part of the fruit of the doc- America be virtually represented, as well trine which had lately been propagated as a great part of this country, “ What,” by certain societies, that England had no exclaimed the right hon. gentleman, constitution. If the House suffered them- “ when they wish to behold the divine selves to be thus insulted, they would face of the British constitution, would soon be overpowered by a torrent of in- you present to them its back, its shame. solence running over their table, and they ful parts? Would you return to them would be despised by the public. Per- the slough of our slavery as the model of haps, indeed, when there was only a little their freedom ?" Or if this was not suffi. indecorum to be observed in a petition, cient, he could refer the House to the the good-temper of the House might ex- subsequent language of the present chancuse it, but here indecorum was the small- cellor of the exchequer, before he came est part of the offence ; for it went the into office. “ That it was notorious that length of denying the authority of that the nabob of Arcot had seven or eight House, as a representative body of the members in that House, and that they did Commons of Great Britain. He knew, not act upon an identity of interest with that in the time of lord George Gordon's the people.”. After this he would appeal turbulence, the House received as bad a to the House whether they ought to be petition as the present; but that was not very nice in the language which they were a time to be regarded, as an example for to receive from their constituents, and he the present. He saw no reason whatever warned them against the danger of layfor receiving this petition ; but he per ing it down as a principle, that the memceived an infinite number against its re- bers of that House were to be allowed to ception. He took notice of the Society say what their constituents were not to for Constitutional Information, and hint- be permitted to state in their petitions. ed at others, all of whom, he observed, The Master of the Rolls opposed the like the present petition, went to propa- receiving of the petition. gate the doctrine that there was no consti- Mr. Sheridan, after remarking that notution in this country; and the safety of thing was so likely to produce ill temper the state required that the authors of such in certain gentlemen, as referring to the principles should be punished. But this principles they had formerly maintained, was not the time to inquire into the guilt hoped the House would not imitate the or innocence of any individual : the ques- example of those gentlemen. If they tion now was simply, whether the peti- wished to be treated with respect by their tion should be received or rejected, upon constituents, their true course was which he trusted the House had no diffi- to treat their constituents with respect. culty.

An hon. gentleman had observed, that a Mr. Grey agreed with the right hon. society lately instituted for the avowed gentleman that this was not the time to purpose of obtaining a parliamentary redebate on the prosecution of any indivi- | form, was, as he trusted, come to the conduals, composing this, that, or any other clusion of its labours, as he had heard nosociety, but simply whether the petition thing of it for some time past. He could should be received or rejected. The assure the hon. gentleman, that the sociepersons composing the society to which ty alluded to (the Friends of the People) he had alluded, and proceeding on the was neither dead nor sleeping, but in the principles and acting from the necessity full vigour of activity. On a former ocwhich occasioned its original formation, casion, referring to the borough of Old were persons very well known to the pub- Sarum, it had been said, that its streets lic, and men who had not departed, nor were now only to be distinguished by the would depart, from the principles they different colours of the corn that grew on originally professed. They had viewed the soil which it once occupied; and that and maturely considered the present state | its only manufacture was the manufacturo (VOL. XXX.]



of members of parliament. In the reign in hopes to be able to digest and bring of queen Elizabeth, a publication was laid forward such alterations on the present before the crown lawyers as treason ; they act as may be of important benefit, but as answered, it was not treason, but felony, these would only operate at the comfor its contents were all stolen from other mencement of a new parliament, he did publications. Just so it was with the pe- not think it right to propose them till then. tition ; its contents were all stolen from Besides, were they at present to alter the the declarations and speeches by which law, it would lead to a presumption that the chancellor of the exchequer had ori- the execution of it was impracticable. ginally courted popularity. It was hard Was it so, he would ask, on any other indeed if expressions, that had been ap- consideration than the want of due attendplauded when spoken in this House were ance in members of that House ? And to be deemed inadmissible when adopted could any plan be devised, whereby the by their constituents.

merits of controverted elections could be Colonel Hartley thought, that in the tried, without requiring from members present circumstances, the House could much attention and attendance? He had not hold up their dignity too high; and heard, indeed, a plan mentioned of trying was against receiving the petition. them by a foreign judicature, not comThe House divided :

posed of members of that House, but of Tellers.

that he could by no means approve; he Mr. Robert Smith

should regret any alteration in the existYEAS, Mr. Daniel Parker Coke

ing law, proceeding on a supposition of

the impracticability of procuring attendMr. Ryder, Noes,

109 ance; for, with what face could they say Mr. Pybus

to their constituents, that a beneficial law So it passed in the negative.

must be altered, because they did not do

their duty ? The remedy which he should Mode for obtaining a due Attendance of propose was a call of the House. There Members.] Feb. 22. The House having remained, he said, on the table, eleven peresolved itself into a committee of the titions, four of which had been presented whole House, to consider of the means of at the beginning of the present parliament ; procuring a due attendance of members and sorry he was that they were yet to be on the days fixed for balloting for com- tried. Three of them had come in since mittees on controverted elections, the commencement of the parliament ;

Mr. T. Grenville began with mentioning and four of them were petitions respecting the respect that was due to the act, by rights, some of which last were fixed for a which the matter under consideration was late day. It was his intention, therefore, to at present regulated, and on which he did propose, that the call of the House should not now intend to propose any alteration. be on the 6th of March, and that the two He was sorry to be called upon to fix the ballots which were now fixed for Tuesday attention of the committee on the absolute and Thursday next, should be postponed necessity of their taking some steps to en till the day after the call, and that the balforce a due attendance on days fixed for lots for Cricklade, Poole, and Pontefract, ballots; several petitions, presented so should be fixed for the 12th of March, by long ago as the beginning of the present which means the pressure of the call would parliament, being still undetermined. He continue for no more than six days. had no doubt that part of the inconve- concluded with moving the following renience which had of late arisen from the solutions. non-attendance of members, was owing to 1. “ That it is the opinion of this comthe pressure of the times; but if so, it mittee, that it is highly advisable that was the more necessary to provide an im- the House should take such steps as may mediate remedy, both because the evil conduce to the most speedy trial of the was likely to increase, and from the dan- several petitions complaining of undue ger of hazarding, at this time, the inter- elections, or returns of members to serve ruption of public business. It was his in parliament, in order that, as far as may wish to accommodate the difficulty with as be, they should be tried and determined little inconvenience as possible. There in the present session of parliament. appeared to him only two possible reme- 2. « That this House should be called dies ; either an alteration of the law, or over on Wednesday, the 6th day of March the enforeing a due attendance. He was next.


3. “ That such members as shall not | facts and circumstances which shall be althen attend, be sent for in custody of the leged in excuse for the non-attendance serjeant at arms attending this House. of any member, on the appointment of

4. “ That the several petitions com- any such select committee, as is above plaining of an undue election and return described.” for the borough of Shaftesbury, now or- The Earl of Wycomb said, he was by no

dered to be taken into consideration on means an admirer of the existing act of · Tuesday next, the 26th instant, and also, parliament for trying contested elections : the several petitions complaining of an but still he allowed it was not without undue election and return for the borough merit; it was, however, not a positive, of Great Grimsby, now ordered to be ta- but a comparative merit; the judicature ken into consideration on Thursday the which this act established was better than 28th instant, should be taken into consi- that which it had abolished. But if there deration on Thursday the 7th of March was any thing in it which he liked better next; and that the several petitions com- than another, it was that it did not complaining of an undue election and return pel the attendance of any individual memfor the borough of Cricklade, now ap- ber. He himself had hitherto attended pointed for Tuesday the 5th of March very regularly on balloting days; but it next, and also, the several petitions com- was because he was left to act as a free plaining of an undue election and return agent, and his attendance was regular, befor the borough of Poole, now appointed cause it was voluntary. He judged of for Thursday the 7th of March next, others by himself, and as he disliked comshould be taken into consideration on pulsion, he presumed it was no less disTuesday the 12th of March next, before agreeable to others; and therefore he the consideration of the petition complain-considered the plan proposed as exing of the Pontefract election now ap- tremely objectionable. pointed for that day.

Mr. Fox differed entirely from the noble 5. “ That on the above recited days lord, and rather thought the compulsion now appointed for the consideration of did not go far enough. He was himself the several petitions above named; viz. one of the minority who opposed Mr. on Thursday the 7th and on Tuesday the Grenville's bill; but he had now altered 12th of March next, or on any other day his opinion of it, and thought the framer in this session of parliament, on which any merited a well-earned praise. The prinof the above named petitions shall be or- cipal objection to it was, the stopping of dered to be taken into consideration, and public business; but it could hardly have the House shall have proceeded to the been foreseen, that gentleman would sit appointment of a select committee for the in their rooms, and allow all public busitrial of any of the above named petitions, ness to stand still, especially at so very and the names of the members shall be important a crisis, and he was sorry it drawn and called for that purpose, Mr. should have so happened. No ballot du. Speaker should direct the name of every ring the whole of this session, had taken member so called, who should be absent place on the day for which it had been from the House, to be set aside ; and that fixed, and one had been delayed so long a list should be made of the names of such as from Tuesday to the Monday followabsent members to be reported by Mr. ing. He stated the great inconvenience Speaker to the House on next sitting arising from this, both with respect to day.

public business and the interest of the 6. “ That, upon the report of the list private parties concerned ; and said that, of the names of such absent members, the in his opinion, such compulsion as might members for whose non-attendance, on enforce attendance, would be convenient the appointment of any such select com- for gentlemen themselves; as nothing mittee, a sufficient excuse shall not be could be more unpleasant than the uncermade and allowed by the House, should tainty which had hitherto taken place as be forthwith ordered to be taken into the to the time when any business would come custody of the serjeant at arms attending on. He trusted, that the alterations, this House, and should not be discharged which his họn. friend had intimated his out of custody, without the special order intention to bring forward in the present of the House.

existing law, would have the effect to pre7. “ That the House should require, vent those evils which were now so much that strict proof should be given of the felt; and of which, the report the House had heard that day, furnished a most me- tion of public business was the most imlancholy instance; two gentlemen had sat portant consideration. He believed the in the House for no less than three ses- want of attendance was occasioned by the sions, who had no right whatever to be pressure of the times, particularly as rethere; while the real representatives were garded those members who are officers in during all that time deprived of their the navy, army, or militia ; but it became seats. He did not wish to go into the the more necessary to procure the attende subject of virtual representation; but ance of those who had no excuse. Rigowhat could gentlemen think of a return-rous measures were always invidious, but, ing officer, dividing a parliament with the to such extent as appeared to him neses. electors, and having the first three years sary, they should have his support in this too, which is the most certain half! It case. A call of the House was a measure, was an evil of the most alarming nature : frequently adopted, and he thought there and he hoped the bill intended to be could hardly be a cause for it of more imbrought forward by his hon. friend, in the portance than what now occurred. He outset of a new parliament, would go to felt a considerable degree of gratitude to the insuring a determination upon all con- the hon. gentleman who had moved the troverted elections, at the very beginning resolutions, and from whom the proposiof a parliament: the public benefit would tion came with peculiar propriety; and be immense; and he was certain, gentle he hoped, when any alteration, with resmen would find the sitting on one com- pect to the regulation of Mr. Grenville's mittee at the beginning of a parliament, act, should be brought forward, that idea and being insured from any after trouble, of the right hon. gentleman who spoke to be far less burthensome than what they last as to an early determination of conwere at present subjected to. As to the troverted elections, would be the regupetitions now before the House respecting lating principle of the new measure. He rights, he was anxious that they should thought the present temporary expedient not go over to another session ; because absolutely necessary, as the prospect of although in any other view, the speedy voluntary attendance was lessening every determination of them was not of so ur- day. With respect to gentlemen in the gent importance, as of the petitions com- navy, army, and militia, the season for acplaining of returns, yet they were an tual service was approaching, and gentleequal interruption to business. As to men of another profession would be going what had been hinted of the idea of a fo- to attend the assizes. reign judicature having cognizance in Mr. Pitt observed, that many members such cases, he highly disapproved of it, who were in the navy, army, or militia, as it was entirely in opposition to all the were at that moment absent on public old and fundamental principles of the service; on pleading that circumstance afconstitution. The decisions of the elec- ter the 7th of March, as the cause of their tion committees were all reported, and he absence on that day, the House would, no believed there was hardly ever any court doubt, admit the excuse as fully suffiof justice, where, among so many decided cient; he wished therefore that they might cases, so little injustice had been done. be permitted to plead it before the 7th,

The Speaker said, that a great variety of and state, as the reason, why they could evils arose from the delay of deciding upon not attend on that day. This would save controverted elections, and from the non- them the trouble of coming to town to attendance of members on days fixed for avoid being taken into custody, and preballots, and he trusted that, on the pre- vent that inconvenience to the public sersent occasion, there would not be much vice which would arise from their absence difference of opinion. To every one who from military duty. The same, he obfelt for the honour of that House, it would served, would apply to gentlemen who be a melancholy reflection, that a return- were to serve on grand juries, and whose ing officer might give a seat there for a presence in their respective counties would period of three years. There surely must be absolutely necessary to the police of be a wish in every gentleman to produce their districts, and the administration of an early and effectual remedy. If the bal-justice. lots had been made on the days fixed for The resolutions were agreed to by the them, all the petitions would have been committee. On being reported, the discussed. The loss arising to private House agreed to the first four. The other parties was very great, but the interrup- resolutions were ordered to be taken into

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