I have carefully studied
this question since the motion appeared on the order paper and I will now give the decision which I have reached. In this case the Right Hon. Mr. Meighen has the right to make a motion that the petition be received, which is the common form of motion in regard to public petitions, and it could also be made as a matter of privilege. The right of petitioning the House is an old and established principle to be jealously preserved.
A distinction, however, must be drawn between petitions relating to matters of public interest and those relating to controverted Elections. In the former case, the right of petition is unimpaired. In the latter, it is clear that a petition complaining of the undue election of a member and questioning the right of an hon. member to his seat, cannot be received by the House, as such a petition is in conflict with the letter and spirit of the statutes respecting the trial of controverted elections. The House in this case has no jurisdiction to interfere.
The amended petition in this case has two distinct requests. The first relates to the conduct of certain electoral officers, and is unquestionably within the jurisdiction of the House. The House retains its power over its own officers, and will receive a petition that prays that the House of Commons will investigate the conduct of the Chief Electoral Officer, the deputy returning officers, or other officers, in any particular.
The second request is essentially a different matter, and a very serious proposition, that such officers shall be authorized to take such action as may be requisite to secure the return to the House of any one of the candidates at an election. There is here involved, in another form, the same controversial question as to an election which is now pending before the tribunal established by law for the decision of such questions. Parliament has never entrusted such duties to its officers. By statute the judges are to decide such matters.
Part of this prayer is within the jurisdiction -of the House, and part beyond that jurisdiction. It seems to be a case where the House cannot afford any practical relief, or investigate the complaint except in a limited degree as respects its own officers. Such a petition may be ordered to lie on the table on the ground that the relief prayed for is partly within the power of the House, though not likely to be afforded.
It is for the House to judge and determine whether this petition should lie on the table and thus become one of the permanent records
of the House. The House has always maintained the undoubted constitutional rights of the people to complain of grievances, and to pray for their redress, but while that is so, the House itself must take into serious consideration the question of devolving upon its officers such large responsibilities as are involved in the prayer of this petition.
I have asked the House to take this responsibility, notwithstanding that I have already ruled that the petition as first presented though differently drafted was not receivable, not because I believe that ruling to have been wrong, but for the reason that I find in Black-more's Speakers' Decisions, 1857-1884, a case somewhat similar to that now in question. At page 238 there appears a ruling by Mr. Speaker Brand from which I quote:
In the event of a special report from the Public Petiitions committee,-
I may observe here that in the British parliament there is no officer corresponding to our Examiner of Petitions, but there is a Public Petitions committee.
-in reference to a petition, the House, not the Speaker, decides whether it should lie upon the table.
I need not enter into details, but after a lengthy debate Mr. Speaker Brand said:
It is for the House, and not for me, to judge and determine whether the petition now under the consideration of the House should lie upon the table, and thus become one of the permanent records of the House. The House has always maintained the undoubted constitutional rights of the people to complain of grievances, and to pray for their redress; but that right may be abused, and the question for the con_ sideration of the House now is, whether the petitioners in the present case have not abused the right of petitioning, which they undoubtedly possess.
This is the only point on which the House is called upon to declare, and for that reason I leave the responsibility to the House.
Subtopic: MOTION THAT PETITION OF J. A. COLLINS BE READ AND RECEIVED