HC Deb 26 February 1807 vol 8 cc998-1004
Lord Folkestone

called the particular attention of the house to a petition which he held in his hand from James Paull, esq. the petitioning candidate for Westminster. The noble lord stated, that the petitioner com–plained of a breach of the standing order of that house which regarded witnesses, and requested that it might be read. It declares, "That if it shall appear that any person hath been tampering with any witness, in respect of his evidence to be given to this house, or any committee thereof, or directly or indirectly hath endeavoured to deter or hinder any person from appearing, or giving evidence, the same is declared to be high crime and misdemeanour; and this house will proceed with the utmost severity against such of fender."—The noble lord then presented the following Petition, which was read by he clerk at the table: To the honourable the commons of the united kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of James Paull, esq. one of the candidates to represent the city of Westminster at the last elec–tion for members of Parliament to serve for the said city,

"Sheweth, That at the said election the right hon. R. B. Sheridan was returned a member to serve in parliament for the said city. That your petitioner presented a pe–tion to this hon. house, against the return of the said R. B. Sheridan, charging him, among other things, with having procured the same by means of undue and illega influence, by threats and menaces, and by divers acts of bribery and corruption. That the said petition was appointed to be taken into consideration on the 24th of this instant month of February. That this honourable house thought fit, at the instance of the said R. B. Sheridan, to postpone the consideration of the said petition until the 14th of April now next ensuing. That your petitioner has lately discovered that the said R. B. Sheridan, in defiance of the standing orders of this house, and to the ma–nifest subversion of every principle of justice, has, by divers nefarious ways and means, tampered with and endeavoured to corrupt, and has attempted to persuade and to de–ter and hinder, certain persons whom your petitioner intended and still intends to ex–amine, and who are and will be material witnesses upon the trial of the said peti–tion, from appearing on the day when the said petition shall be heard, and from gi–ving their unbiassed, or any, testimony on behalf of your petitioner, and against the said R. B. Sheridan.—That one Wm. Drake was and still is a material witness sum–moned on behalf of your petitioner, and that the said W. Drake having, on or about the 10th of this instant February, informed the said R. B. Sheridan that he had been so summoned, and having enquired of him the course he was to pursue, the said R. B. Sheridan told him to leave that bu–siness to him, that he would procure him a situation abroad, and he would also pro–vide for the father of the said W. Drake, and added, that the said W. Drake might have any money he pleased, and wished the said W. Drake to keep out of the way, and endeavoured to persuade the said W. Drake not to give, and to intimidate, and deter, and hinder him from giving, complete and unbiassed testimony before the select com- mittee of the facts known to him relative to the said election, and did offer to give money to the said W. Drake for him to procure for the said R. B. Sheridan a certain letter, in the possession of one Emanuel Harris, and which letter the said E. Harris had been required by an order of the right hon. the speaker to produce be–fore the said committee; and that the said R. B. Sheridan did also, on or about Thurs–day, the 19th of Feb, instant, again offer the said W. Drake money, and a situation of profit, with the same view, and did likewise on the last mentioned day, endea–vour to persuade one Tho, Weatherhead, not to give an unbiassed testimony on the trial of the said petition. And that one Alex. Johnston, one Frederick Homan, one Edwards, and divers others the agents and partisans of the said R. B. Sheridan, did also tamper with the said W. Drake, and endeavour to persuade and to deter, and to hinder him from giving unbiassed testi–mony before the said committee; and the said A. Johnston and F. Homan did also endeavour to persuade and induce the said W. Drake to procure the aforesaid letter from the said E. Harris.—That the said R. B. Sheridan, by one Henry Burgess, one James Wallace, and one John Gallant, and divers others his agents and partisans, did also tamper with divers other witnesses summoned by your petitioner to give testi–mony on his behalf: and in particular that the said James Wallace and John Gallant did inform one Wm. Sperring, one Wm. War–ren, one Jeremiah James, one John Pul–len, one Daniel Richardson, one John Ba–lam, and one Christ. Richardson, whom he knew had been so summoned, that it was intended to move this hon. house to postpone the consideration of the said petition until a future day, by which means the orders to attend the said committee, with which they had been served, would be invalid and of no use; and that if it were postponed but for one day, there would be time for them all to get out of the way to avoid their being served a second time; and added, that when they had succeeded in putting it off, each person should have money to go out of the way to prevent his being summoned; and your petitioner has been informed and verily believes that the said W. Sperring, D. Richardson, and W. Warren are now out of the way, and have been persuaded and induced so to do by the means aforesaid.—That the said R. B. Sheridan, and the several persons, agents, and partisans, aforesaid, with divers others, have conspired together, in manner aforesaid, and in divers other ways, for the pur–pose of depriving your petitioner of his just right, and preventing him from establishing by his witnesses before a committee of your honourable house, his claim to represent the said city of Westminster.—All which transactions of the said R. B. She–ridan, his agents, and partisans, are to the great injury of your petitioner, in the ma–nifest violation of the standing orders of this hon. house, in defiance of justice, in breach of the law, and to the utter destruction of equal trial. Your petitioner therefore prays that he may be permitted to prove the facts above stated, at the bar of this hon. house, that he may be heard by his counsel at the bar, and that this hon. house will take his witnesses under its protection, and give such relief as in justice shall to this hon. house seem fit, And your petitioner shall ever pray, &c,"—Upon the motion that the petition should lie on the table,

Mr. Sheridan rose

to ask the noble lord, whether it was his intention to follow up this petition by any grave proceeding, because, if so, he would reserve what he had to state upon this subject, until such proceeding should be proposed?

Lord Folkestone

replied, that he meant the next day to ground a motion upon this petition, of which he took that opportunity to give notice.—The petition was then ordered to lie on the table

Mr. Wilberforce

reminded the noble lord, that a question of considerable im–portance stood for the next day

The Speaker

observed, that as the motion of the noble lord referred to a breach of privilege, it naturally took precedency of every other question

Lord Howick

concurred with the opinion the house had just heard from the chair, that it had always been usual to proceed to the consideration of any charge connected with a breach of privilege with all convenient expedition. Indeed, the prompt investigation of such an important point was so desirable, that he should wish it to be gone into that night. If the noble lord were inclined to proceed, he could not sup–pose that there existed on any side of the house the slightest indisposition to hear him

Lord Folkestone,

after all that he had heard of the doctrine of notices, was not prepared to expect that the house would be willing to entertain a question of this nature without a previous notice. Such notice being always usual upon grave occa–sions, he confessed that he was not ready to enter into this question at present; nor did he believe the parties interested for the petition were ready either. For neither he nor they could have expected that the house would have felt disposed to deviate from its general practice in this particular instance

Mr. Sheridan

felt it his duty to abstain at present from any remark upon this ex–traordinary petition. Indeed, if he were now to enter into its allegations, he very much apprehended that he might be led to speak of it in warmer terms of scorn and contempt than would be quite becoming, after the order which the house had just made. His hope and desire was, that the consideration of this subject would be pro–ceeded upon as soon as possible, and he sincerely wished that the noble lord might collect and present petitions, containing all the charges circulated against him, either during the progress, or since the termination of the Westminster election. He would be glad to have the whole of that transaction brought before the house, and fully investigated, It was not one act alone, but every pert of the proceeding that it was his wish to have discussed. He had no reason to be afraid of any thing that could be proved. It was the loose al–legation which originated in falsehood, which was propagated by craft, and shrunk from enquiry, that could alone affect his interest. With regard to the charges against him, contained in the petition before the house, he did not know whether it would be decent to say that every word of them was a gross falsehood. But this he knew, that he was fully prepared to shew at the bar, if permitted to prove, that all the witnesses examined at the bar were forsworn, but that, he said, would be mat–ter for future observation

Lord Howick

rather wished the house should not separate without some farther proceeding upon the subject of the petition. As to the doctrine of notices, he did not conceive it by any means so sacred as the noble lord professed to think. It certain–ly was not a settled practice, or a standing order, although it had of late been general–ly observed. This practice, therefore, need not be adhered to on the present oc–casion. His desire was to avoid any un–necessary delay, and that the noble lord should at once move to refer the petition to the committee of privileges; and after such motion, he would then suggest to the noble lord the propriety of appointing a day for the house to resolve itself into such committee. He was sorry, as the noble lord adhered to notices, that he did not, on some former day, give notice of this petition, and then there could be no reason for the delay that noble lord now proposed. Without entering at present into the general merits of the petition, he had no hesitation in saying that there was one part of the prayer with which he could not concur. Indeed, it would be quite unusual to introduce counsel upon such an occasion. But independently of custom, the house must feel that it would be incon–sistent with its dignity to have counsel at its bar, discussing the nature of its own privileges, and the means of preserving them. That part of the prayer of the pe–tition, therefore, he should feel it his duty to oppose. He again said, that he should wish the noble lord to proceed at once upon this important question

The Speaker

observed, that as the house had already ordered the petition to lie on the table, it was now too late to make any other order

Lord Folkestone

was not aware that it had ever been the practice to give any no–tice of the intention to present a petition. If such had been the custom, the noble secretary would not have had to express any regret on this occasion. The only no–tice which he understood custom to re–quire, he had not neglected in this instance, namely, that of apprising the individual concerned of his intention to present such a petition. For he himself left a note the preceding day at the house of the right hon. gent. (Mr. Sheridan) acquainting him of his intention of presenting the peti–tion this day. With respect to the nature of his future proceeding, he felt some difficulty in determining, in consequence of the declaration which the house had just heard from the noble secretary of state, as he had calculated upon the necessity and propriety of counsel to examine the witnes–ses. This new difficulty rendered him of course still less capable of proceeding with the promptitude which the noble secretary professed to desire, At this desire he could not help feeling some astonishment, consi–dering how much the doctrine of notices had been often insisted upon, recollecting, indeed, that the neglect of previous notice had been sometimes deemed a fatal objection to the adoption of a motion. But to return to the noble secretary's wish for proceeding that night, the fact was, that such a course would serve to render the whole business nu–gatory, and would indeed operate to stifle the enquiry, as none of the necessary witnesses were then in attendance, nor could, perhaps, be immediately found. He therefore should postpone the subject until the next day

Lord Howick,

influenced by what had fallen from the chair, did not mean to press any farther proceeding that night. But, in order to obviate the possibility of any misconception or misconstruction arising out of what the noble lord had said relative to the idea of rendering this business nuga–tory, or stifling enquiry,he thought it neces–sary to repeat the substance of what he had before stated. In urging the noble lord to move at once for referring the pe–tition on the table to a committee of privi–leges, he by no means proposed that the noble lord should at once be called on to produce his witnesses, and go into the en–quiry; on the contrary, he had distinctly stated, that a future day should be ap–pointed for the committee to sit. There–fore, no expression whatever had escaped him which could warrant any man in sup–posing that he wished the noble lord to be taken by surprise, or hurried into the en–quiry without ample preparation. Now, in order that full time should be allowed the noble lord to prepare and bring for–ward his witnesses, he proposed that the further consideration of this subject should be postponed till Monday

Lord Folkestone

expressed his willingness to adopt the suggestion of the noble secre–tary of state, by postponing till Monday his intended motion upon the subject of Mr. Paull's petition

Mr. Adam

wished to know the precise nature of the noble lord's motion, in order that gentlemen should have an opportunity previously to consider it: for with all the desire that he felt to have a charge of such aggravated character probed to the bottom, still he might feel himself under the necessity of negativing the noble lord's motion, should it prove to be incorrect in its nature

Lord Folkestone

felt himself unable to give a precise answer to the learned gent.'s question, particularly in consequence of what had fallen from the noble secretary of state. He therefore could not at present say distinctly what would be the form of his motion; but he had no objection to state generally, that the object of it would be to have witnesses called to the bar for examina- tion as to the charges alleged in the petition

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