HC Deb 15 June 1819 vol 40 cc1182-8
The Speaker

rose and informed the House, that a Stranger had been just reported to him as being in the custody of the Serjeant at Arms. The Serjeant was then called in, and reported, that in pursuance of the Sessional Order of the 21st of January, he had taken into custody a Stranger, who was in the gallery while the House was sitting, and that the said person is still in his custody.

The Speaker

then informed the House of the circumstances of the case, and of offensive expressions having been used by the stranger to a messenger of the House.

William Gifford

, a messenger of the House, was then called, and being examined, he stated, that, being in the side-gallery, he observed a person who was sitting in the front row of the Strangers' gallery taking notes of what was passing in the House; and he being desired by the said W. Gifford to desist, refused to do so, advanced his note-book higher than before, and said to W. Gifford, "Go to Hell." Upon this, W. G. went and reported this matter to the deputy Serjeant at Arms, and then returning to the side-gallery, he found that another person who had been taking notes had desisted, but the person now in custody was holding his book higher than before; and that the deputy serjeant, having received the directions of the Speaker, had then taken into custody this stranger—whose name was Peter Finnerty.

Mr. Wynn moved, that Peter Finnerty be brought to the bar in custody.

Mr. Bankes

said, that from what they had heard, there appeared to be no circumstance of extenuation in this case as in the last: he suggested, therefore, whether it would pot be as well to leave the individual in custody, until he acknowledged the contumacious course which, it seemed, he had pursued. If, however, there was any desire to give him an opportunity of refuting the accusation, he had no objection. It was possible that an accusation might be got up through misapprehension or mistake, which could be refuted by the party against whom it was brought. If, on being brought to the bar, the individual did not rebut or acknowledge his offence, and in the latter case throw himself on the mercy of the House, then, indeed, he thought it would be incumbent on the House to commit the individual to Newgate.

Mr. Denman

was of opinion, that the proper course would be, to bring the individual to the bar to hear what he had to say in his justification.

Mr. Finnerty

was then brought to the bar in custody, and, being examined, denied having used the expression imputed to him. He thought it impossible, from his general manners and habits, that he could have used such language; and in excuse of any warmth or contumacy which he might have manifested, alleged that the messenger had addressed him uncivilly, saying "Finnerty, you are not to write mere, put down your book:" that he had been a reporter of debates for twenty years, and had never before heard of the rule that the reporters were to confine themselves to the back row: that he and all the reporters were deeply interested in the business of the evening, and therefore he had advanced to the front row.

William Gifford

was again called in, and being examined, he further stated, that the expression used by Mr. Finnerty was, "Go to hell;" that he addressed him civilly, saying, "Mr. Finnerty." The front row of the gallery was full, and two others were taking notes, who desisted when desired.—That P. F. did not retire to the back seat of the gallery till the order had been given to take him into custody; but believes he was not then aware of such order. That the invariable rule against taking notes in the front of the gallery was known to all the reporters. That to his knowledge, Mr. Finnerty had frequented the gallery as a reporter for 10 years; ever since W. G. had been employed at the House of Commons. That P. F. had never to his knowledge attempted to take notes before, sitting in the front row: that P. F, did not move when desired: that when W. G. returned from reporting the case to the serjeant, he found P. F. sitting in the same place, and he advanced his note-book more conspicuously than before. That he continued in the front row ten minutes after he was first ordered to desist.

John Pratt

(another messenger of the House) was then called in, and being examined, he stated that he heard W. G. request P. F. to desist from taking notes; and heard the latter say in reply, "Go to hell," as audibly as J. P. was then speaking at the bar. Moreover, that P. F. did not desist, but conspicuously elevated his book. The witness was within two feet of W. G., about a yard and a half from P. F. at the time. That at last P. F. withdrew when ordered.

Charles Stein

(another messenger of the House) was then called in, and being examined, stated, That he heard W. G. desire P. F. to desist from taking notes in the front row of the gallery, and he heard P. F. say, "Go to hell." That W. G. addressed him as "Mr. Finnerty." The witness does not know any of the strangers who sat near P. F.

Mr. Wynn

said, that under the circumstances of the case, after the course which the prisoner at the bar had thought proper to adopt, in wholly denying a charge that had since been substantiated in evidence, he thought the House, in vindication of its own honour and in support of its privileges, was called on to take a severer course than was usual. He should therefore move, "That Peter Finnerty be committed-to his majesty's gaol of Newgate."

Sir J. Mackintosh

did not rise to oppose the proceeding the House might think proper to adopt, but to submit to its consideration a circumstance that had come to his knowledge since the individual was brought to the bar. The individual still persisted in asserting, that he was not conscious of having used the expression imputed to him, or any other offensive expression towards the messenger; but, if he were permitted to appear at the bar again, he was ready to express his sincere sorrow for having given offence, if, without any recollection, he had done so. He would submit to the House the propriety of giving the individual the opportunity of offering an apology to the House. [Cries of No!]. If his hon. friend would withdraw his motion, he would, unless the sense of the House was against him, move, "That Mr. Finnerty be again called to the bar."

Sir C. Burrell

said, that many individuals in the gallery had heard the conversation, and had also heard what had been stated at the bar; and he was convinced that if they believed the stranger had been unjustly accused of using the offensive expression, they would have volunteered their evidence to free him from the charge. This circumstance established the fact, beyond the possibility of a doubt, that the stranger had used the offensive and disrespectful expression imputed to him.

Mr. Pares

said, he was acquainted with two respectable gentlemen who were in the gallery when the circumstance took place, and from whom, perhaps, if examined, some further information might be collected.

Thomas Boswell

, an inhabitant of Leicester, was called at the suggestion of Mr. Pares, and being examined, stated, That he sat within two or three of P. F., and between him and the messengers who were about four yards distant; did not hear him say, "Go to hell;" rather thinks he said, "I don't care a damn for you." He did not see him advance his note-book higher; but he did not take down his book, and continued writing in it.—His reply to the messenger followed immediately, without consideration.

James Darglas

, another inhabitant of Leicester, was then called in, and being examined, he stated, That when the messenger desired P. F. to desist from taking notes in the front gallery, his reply was, "That he would speak to the Speaker,—or appeal to the Speaker." Did not hear him say, "Go to hell." Does not know that he said, "I don't care a damn." Did not hear that; but believes he did hear him say, "I don't care a something." He did not desist from taking notes.

Charles White

, esq. a magistrate of the county of Lincoln, called in and examined; he stated, That P. F. was writing on the green cloth before him, in the front of the gallery. That the request of the messenger, that he would desist, was not complied with. That P. F. said immediately, "Go to hell," and further, "Go and be damned;" and with an oath in the phrase, said, "I'll appeal to the Speaker." —The witness sat next to P. F. on the right hand side,—knew him to be P. F. because he had been confined in Lincoln Castle.

Mr. Ellice

said, that under the contradictory testimony the House had heard on both sides, especially as it could not be doubted but that all parties wished to give fair and honest evidence, he suggested to the hon. member the propriety of withdrawing his motion, in order to give the prisoner an opportunity of appearing at the bar to offer such an apology or explanation as the circumstances seemed to require—[No! no!]—and which, at all events, was due, on account of his having interfered, in any way, with the messengers, in the execution of their duty. If he were not out of order, he would move, as an amendment, "That Mr. Finnerty be again called to the bar of the House."

The motion being put from the chair,

Mr. Bathurst

said, he knew not for what purpose the prisoner could be called to the bar, unless there was a feeling in the hon. member's mind, that he would make such an apology as could be received in mitigation of punishment. If he was disposed to make an apology for these words, it would place his case in a different situation from that in which it at present stood.

Mr. Ellice

said, that having left the House for the purpose of writing a letter, he accidentally met the prisoner in the lobby—and, the offensive expressions having been positively stated to have been used by him, and by him as positively denied, he asked, whether it was possible there could be any misapprehension in his mind as to what occurred? The prisoner stated distinctly, "As far as my recollection goes, I did not use those expressions. I was taking a debate, on a very interesting occasion, and being interrupted, I might have used a hasty expression—but I know I left the gallery, fully determined to submit to the authority of the House." He asked the stranger "was he disposed to make an apology to the House for using even a hasty expression to the messenger?" The prisoner said "Yes;—that he would make any fair apology that might be required of him." Therefore it was that he proposed to call the prisoner to the bar, in order that he might offer an apology.

Mr. Wynn

said, the ground on which he made his motion was not so much on account of the original offence, which might have arisen from the heat of the moment, as with reference to what had afterwards occurred. If the prisoner had thrown himself on the mercy of the House and asked pardon, perhaps the matter might have rested there. But, as he always held that the acknowledgment of an offence went greatly in mitigation of it, so he thought that a bold and unqualified denial was an aggravation of the error. As there appeared to be some dissimilarity in the evidence, and as the prisoner was ready to make an apology for what had occurred, he had no objection to withdraw his motion.

Mr. Hutchinson

said the had recently seen the prisoner, who authorized him to state, and also requested another hon. member to declare, that he was not conscious of having used any offensive language whatsoever. His not having stated this at the bar, was wholly owing, to the embarrassment occasioned by his situation.

Mr. C. Harvey

said, that the stranger must have known he had no right to sit in the front of the gallery and there take notes. By using offensive language, and contumaciously remaining, after he was ordered to withdraw, he certainly deserved to be visited by the displeasure of the House.

Colonel Barry

was of opinion, that the prisoner had acted contumaciously, and that the House, in vindication of its privileges, ought not to suffer such conduct to pass unpunished.

Lord Castlereagh

suggested, as the conduct of the prisoner could not be passed over unnoticed, whether a proceeding, short of committal, that of a reprimand at the bar, would not answer every useful purpose?

Mr. Finnerty

being again called in,

The Speaker

said—this House being informed that you wish to address something to them, have directed you to be placed at the bar.

Mr. Finnerty

said:—"I am not conscious of having offered the slightest offence, or the smallest disrespect to the House, by any word or deed of mine this evening. I declare with sincerity, that, if I have been betrayed into any hasty expression, of which I have no recollection, I am sorry for it.—At the time the circumstance occurred, my mind was engaged in the most intense application to the individual who was then addressing the House, and whose sentiments I was most anxious to take down correctly. At this conjuncture I was interrupted, and God knows what might have escaped me! But I am not conscious of having said any thing offensive. If I have done so, I am sorry for it—but I again say I have no recollection of it."

Lord Castlereagh

said, the prisoner having expressed his contrition for any thing that might have inadvertently fallen from him in the warmth of the moment, and having declared that he meant no disrespect either to the House or to its officer, it would perhaps be sufficient, if he were called in and reprimanded. The noble lord then moved, "That Peter Finnerty be brought to the Bar, in order to his being reprimanded and discharged."

Mr. Finnerty

was accordingly brought to the Bar, where he received a Reprimand from Mr. Speaker, and was ordered to be discharged out of custody, paying his Fees. The Reprimand was as follows:

"Peter Finnerty; Anxious as this House always is, to measure the infliction of its punishment by the extent of the offence, it is no less anxious to show all the lenity that is consistent with justice and the maintenance of its own dignity. It would have been impossible for the House, under the Complaint brought before their notice, not to have visited this offence with the severest punishment, had they not been satisfied, from the explanation you have offered, that, whatever that offence was, it was involuntarily committed. Under all these circumstances, the House has directed that you be now reprimanded; and it may be well to warn both you and others, that, whilst they are availing themselves of the indulgence of the House, they should be most cautious not to abuse it. I have now to inform you, that you are discharged upon the payment of your fees."