House of Commons: Journal Office: Public Petitions presented to the House of Commons
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- Held At: Parliamentary Archives: GB-061
- Catalogue Reference: HC/CL/JO/4
- Accession Number: 3701
- Date: 1946-2017
- Level: Series
- Extent: 70 files, 29 boxes
- Custodial History: Petitions (also known as "Prayers") have been presented to Parliament from the earliest days, and petitioning formed the starting point for both legislative and judicial procedure. During the 16th century an increasing number of petitions came to the House of Commons and by 1571 the House was receiving sufficient to warrant the formation of a committee of thirteen 'for Motions of Griefs and Petitions'. In the same year the first petition was entered in the Journal. In 1607 a Committee of the Whole House for Grievances was formed. Original petitions accumulated from then until 1834, when they were destroyed in the Palace fire. Approximately a hundred pre-1649 petitions survived as they had become mixed with the Lords Papers. From 1571 onwards the receipt of each Petition has usually been noted in the Journal, and from 1680 onwards also in "Votes and Proceedings" (HC/CL/JO/6). Between 1742 and 1833 full texts of Petitions may be given in the Votes or in their Appendix. In 1621 a Select Committee to view and consider petitions was named. By 1626 this was established as a regular Standing Committee to receive petitions concerning the delay or obstruction of justice. The Long Parliament received a flood of petitions, and committees were appointed to regulate and sort them. The Tumultuous Petitioning Act, 1661, [Public Act, 13 Charles II, c. 5] led to a diminution in petitioning by forbidding the 'getting of Hands or other consent' from more than 20 petitioners without the consent of justices or other authorities. In 1669 the House of Commons resolved that it was the right of every commoner to prepare and present petitions to the House and of the House to receive and determine them. Petitions were considered by the House and then in some cases referred to a committee. The Committee for Petitions was abolished on 5th April 1974. An Order of 1685 that Private Bills could be brought in only after petitions had been presented established a separate series of petitions for private legislation. In 1689 the House resolved that Petitioners must sign with their own hands. In 1713 a Standing Order ruled that no petition relating to grants of public money be received without the recommendation of the Crown, and from 1770 all petitions relating to elections were transferred for final decision to a special committee for that purpose. Petitioning had been adopted as 'a weapon of agitation' by Wilkes in 1769, and from 1779 on it became the primary method by which those seeking economical and Parliamentary reform sought to gain the attention of Parliament. From then until the beginning of the 20th century 'Public Petitions', as they were called, came to the House in very great quantities, the annual numbers of petitions after 1833 varying between 10,000 and 34,000, and of those signing between ½ and 6 million. Originally petitions could give rise to immediate debate in the House, but Standing Orders were amended to formalise the presentation of petitions. From 1833 to 1974 a Select Committee on Public Petitions was appointed to investigate the regularity of the form of the Petitions, to classify them, to summarise their arguments and to print representative texts. The Reports of the Committees give information such as subject matter, place of origin, and numbers of signatures. In addition, the full text of a number of petitions was printed each year in the Appendices to these reports. There is an index to these reports and appendices. From 1834 to 1946 the originals of Public Petitions were destroyed after the committee had reported. From the session of 1946/47 the complete Petitions are preserved. For a petition to be accepted, it must be specifically and respectfully addressed to the House of Commons, stating clearly the origin of the petition and its authors. A paragraph must appear at the top of each sheet setting out the reasons for the petition in the form of a request which it is within the competence of the House to grant, and the petition should conclude with a short phrase indicating the end of the effective part of the petition. The wording of the petition must appear on the top of every sheet, along with the signature and address of all petitioners.
- Description: Public petitions presented to the House of Commons from 1947 onwards. The files also contain a small number of rejected petitions which failed to satisfy one of the above criteria or were judged to contain multiple entries in the same handwriting.
- System of Arrangement: Original arrangement has been maintained. Petitions were usually arranged in chronological order, with the name of the MP and constituency added, if it was not already part of the petition. Until 1983 a list was made each year, giving a running number to petitions by subject. This system stopped in the mid-1980s when the number of petitions rose dramatically. From 1988 the petitions were arranged in chronological order under the name of the MP who had presented them.
Where a large number of petitions were received on a particular topic (e.g. HC/CL/JO/4/35/2), they were kept apart from the annual series and arranged by constituency.
For Public petitions presented to the House of Commons from 1987 onwards, a list of petition titles was not produced, instead the petitions were recorded under the name of the presenting MP and the date of presentation.
- Related Material: HL/PO/JO/10 contains any surviving House of Commons Petitions from 1621 to 1649. These Petitions are usually on sheets of paper, are signed by petitioners and are never dated. They may, however, be endorsed with a date and with notes of action taken. Some of those of 1640 bore many signatures and dealt with general matters such as abuses in Church government, Ship Money, the Star Chamber, Monopolies, etc. They are sometimes identical with Petitions submitted to the House of Lords. PET contains a collection of miscellaneous Parliamentary petitions which have been acquired in a series of accessions. HC/CL/JO/6 contains Votes and Proceedings of the House of Commons which include Reports and Appendices of the Select Committee on Public Petitions, 1833-early 20th century. HC/CP contains Reports of the Select Committee on Public Petitions, 1948-1974.
- Related Record:
- Access Status: Open
- Access Conditions: From 1 January 2005, it will be possible to request the opening of records whose access status is marked closed under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.
- Physical Description: The Petitions are usually on sheets of paper, although a small number are on parchment or in rolls.
- Finding Aids: An item level list is available in the box for most years up to 1983.
- Copies Exist: The Reports and Appendices of the Select Committee on Public Petitions, 1833-1974, are among the printed Votes and Proceedings of the House of Commons which may be found at major university libraries.
- Publication Notes: M F Bond, 'Guide to the Records of Parliament' (London, 1971), pp 240-41.
J B Bull, Orders, Resolutions and Practice of the House of Commons relating to Public Petitions (1890).
B J Enright, Public Petitions In the House of Commons (1960), typescript in Parliamentary Archives.
'Erskine May's treatise on the law, privileges and proceedings and usage of Parliament', ed. Sir William McKay et al (23rd edn, London, 2004), pp 932-41 (BOOK/3604).