§ Mr. W. JOHNSTON
I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury if he has seen a letter signed "John Wilson, Carrickfergus" in The Times of Wednesday, 23rd instant, it which it is asserted that the so-called Presbyterian Petition or Address to the Prime Minister was not exclusively signed by Presbyterians; is he aware that when the Petition was brought into a family whose head was a Home Ruler, all the family who could write, no matter how young, signed it also; and whether he will refer it to the Committee on Petitions of the House of Commons to examine and report on the signatures?
§ MR. McCARTAN (Down, S.)
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a large number of Ulster Presbyterians in avowed sympathy with the Irish policy of the Government had no opportunity of signing this declaration? Has his attention been called to a letter from a Presbyterian Liberal published in The Belfast Northern Whig, in which the writer states that he is a Presbyterian; that he would have been pleased to sign the Address had he known it was in contemplation, and would have undertaken to procure within one hour the signatures of at least a dozen Presbyterian heads of families in his town?
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY (Mr. W. E. GLADSTONE,) Edinburgh, Midlothian
In reply to the first paragraph of the question, I am not aware whether any and what religious test was employed to ascertain whether these gentlemen were Presbyterians or not, but I doubt whether there was much inducement used to those who were not Presbyterians to sign and assume the 974 character for the purpose, considering the sentiments supposed to prevail in that portion of the country. With regard to the second paragraph, I do not read the letter as the hon. Member has read it; and as to the third paragraph, I apprehend the Committee on Petitions has no power whatever to investigate these matters. If I wore to refer the Paper to them I should feel myself to be guilty of a positive impertinence. I am not prepared to undertake the investigation of the separate wishes and opinions of the 3,500 persons who signed the Petition. It is impossible for me to enter into the investigation of minute particulars, but I have the utmost confidence not only in the good faith but in the prudence and discretion of those who signed the letter to me, and made themselves responsible for it, so far as I am capable of forming a decision on the subject. Further than that I cannot go, and I must leave the matter to be fought out between the respective Parties outside the walls of this House.