§ Lord Althorp
solicited the attention of the House, whilst he detailed to it a most gross violation of its privileges, which had lately occurred. A soldier of the first regiment of guards, named Stinton, had been summoned to attend and give evidence before the committee on the Worcester election. He had attended, and had been examined on Saturday last. As he was retiring from the room in which the committee sat, and was crossing the lobby of the House, he was arrested by a sergeant of the guards, for a military offence which he had committed; that offence was his absence from parade, in consequence of his attendance at the House of Commons. The committee, on hearing of the circumstance, had not taken any immediate notice of it; because they thought that when the soldier's conduct was explained to his officers, nothing would be done to punish him. Since that time, the man had been tried by a court martial, though sentence had not, he believed, been passed upon him. He thought that such a transaction was well worthy of their consideration: for his own part, he must denounce it as a most flagrant breach of privilege to arrest in the precincts of the House, any witness who was in attendance pursuant to its orders. They ought in all cases to punish with severity any breach of their privileges; but still more so, when the breach was committed by military authority.
said, that Stinton had not been punished in consequence of his absence from parade; he had behaved ill in many other respects; had endeavoured to escape from the Serjeant who had arrested him; and, in consequence, had been brought to a court-martial. What 1169 the sentence of that court was he could not say.
§ Sir M. W. Ridley
thought that such an outrage ought to be marked by the censure of the House on the individual who had been guilty of it.
§ Mr. Tierney
said, that the real question was, whether the soldier had or had not been arrested whilst he was in attendance upon a summons from a committee of the House. Now it appeared that he had been so arrested, and arrested also in the precincts of the House. The Serjeant, therefore, who had arrested him, had certainly transgressed against their privileges.
§ Mr. Beckett
admitted that the House should take notice of the proceeding, but believed that the offence for which the soldier was tried was wholly of a military nature.
§ Mr. Bennet
observed, that as the soldier had been illegally arrested in the first instance, he did not see why he should be punished for an attempted escape from an arrest which, in point of law, was no arrest at all. He also maintained, that, as the arrest was illegal, any punishment inflicted on the soldier, for his endeavour to escape from that arrest, would be highly illegal. For his own part he should wish to see the minutes of the court-martial.
Sir C. Monck
considered this a violation of a most important privilege. The House was bound to protect its witnesses, and in doing so it only exerted the same power which every court of justice possessed, and when necessary exerted.
§ Sir James Mackintosh
asserted, that a more serious breach of privilege could not be committed, especially as it originated from a military officer. If, during the course of a late examination, a party had been committed to the custody of the serjeant at arms, for using threatening language to a witness who had been examined at the bar of that House—a punishment which he, for one, did not think disproportionate to the offence which had rendered it necessary—surely they ought to exercise equal severity towards a military man who had been guilty of so gross an outrage as that upon which they were then debating. He had never before heard such unsatisfactory and extraordinary arguments as those which the judge advocate had just advanced; he had heard them with surprise not unmingled with indignation. The learned gentleman had intimated, that an ignorance of the privileges of the House was to be considered 1170 as a sufficient excuse for the breach of them. Ignorance might, indeed, be pleaded in extenuation, when the offending party was brought to the bar; but could not, and ought not to be considered as an excuse for his conduct. If they admitted such a justification at the present time, they might as well extend it to all invasions which the military officers of the crown might hereafter think it convenient to make upon their rights and privileges. He certainly thought that the Serjeant ought to be brought to the bar of the House, and that his conduct ought to be investigated closely. One breach of privilege had been committed in the arrest of the soldier, under the circumstances which had been described to them; another had also been committed in bringing the subsequent charge of an attempted escape against him, before a court-martial. The escape, or rather the pretended escape, was a part of Stinton's conduct, which the circumstances under which he had been arrested rendered perfectly justifiable. To whatever other resolutions the House might come, he thought that they could not rest satisfied without a copy at least of the charge preferred against Stinton being submitted to their notice.
§ Mr. Beckett
said, that the learned gentleman was wholly mistaken in supposing that he had extenuated the conduct of the Serjeant, on the ground of his ignorance of the privileges of that House. As to the court martial, he understood it was solicited by the soldier.
§ Mr. Bennet
said, it was probable the soldier solicited the court martial, because he would have been flogged without it.
§ Lord Althorp
then moved, That the Serjeant of the first regiment of Foot Guards, who arrested Thomas Stinton on Saturday last, be ordered to attend the House on Tuesday next.
thought it highly objectionable to adjourn such a question to so distant a period. Important as the business was which was at that time to come under discussion, it could not be more important than that which they were then discussing. Rather than such an adjournment should take place, he should prefer that the House should meet and specially consider the matter to-morrow. For his own part, he thought that the House ought not to separate without corning to a decision on the question forthwith. In the last parliament, when a witness had 1171 been arrested within the precincts of the House in a civil case, they had come to a decision forthwith the reasons which led them to form such a determination in a civil case, ought to actuate them still more stronger in a military one.
After some Further conversation, the Serjeant, and also Thomas Stinton Were ordered to attend the House forthwith.
Shortly after, the Serjeant was called in and examined. He stated, that his name was John Hardy, and that he belonged to the 1st regiment of guards. He admitted that on Saturday last he had come in search of Thomas Stinton, and found him in the lobby of the House of Commons. He was taking him to his quarters when the said Stinton ran away from him. In a quarter of an hour, however, he regained possession of his prisoner, and took him Before the orderly officer. In all he had done, he had acted by the orders of serjeant-major Sutton, and on the ground that Stinton had absented himself from the defaulter's drill, at ten in the morning. Stinton had since been tried by a court-martial on the charge of having absented himself, disobeyed orders, effected his escape, and made away with a piece of cloth belonging to the witness. He had no knowledge that Stinton had received a summons to attend an election committee; neither did he know that it was a breach of privilege to seize him in the lobby of the House. He had only thought of obeying his orders. The defaulter's drill took place at nine in the morning, and lasted at least one hour, and when Stinton was seized he accounted for his absence by saying, that he must attend the House of Commons by half-past eight in the morning. He ought, however, to have reported his having received a summons before he absented himself, but had not done it either to the witness, or to any of his officers. His excuse was, that his absence had been occasioned by his attendance on the House of Commons.—The witness then withdrew.
§ Lord Althorp
expressed his opinion, that there was now evidence before the House, to show that Stinton had been brought to a court-martial, amongst Other things, upon a charge of being absent from drill, that absence having been caused by his attendance on a committee of the House. The statement of these circumstances clearly indicated a case of a breach of privilege, and rendered it 1172 necessary that that minutes of the court-martial should be laid before them.
§ Lord Palmerston
observed, that one reason why the man had been brought to a court-martial was, that he had refused to answer any question put to him by his superior officers, and had actually invited them to bring him before one.
§ Thomas Sutton
was then examined. He stated, that be was serjeant-major to the 1st regiment of guards, and that hearing Stinton had been missing at the defaulter's drill, he had ordered serjeant Hardy to secure him He afterwards learnt about two o'clock that it had been done, and as he found that Stinton's absence had been occasioned by his attendance on the House of Commons, he had directed serjeant Hardy only to confine him to the barracks. Stinton having subsequently made his escape and been retaken was confined till Monday, and then arraigned for breach of duty. He told the adjutant, who reasoned with him on the subject, that the charge was false, and that he would not answer the questions of any one, unless he were brought before a court martial. He behaved with the same impropriety to the commanding officer. He was then brought before a court-martial, and found guilty of two of the charges laid against him, but, in consequence of his pleading that he had been summoned to attend the House of Commons, the court had pardoned him and no punishment had been inflicted upon him. On the Friday previous to his absence, he had stated to the witness that he had received a summons to attend the House of Commons, upon which the witness told him that he must inform him whether his attendance would interfere with his military duty, which he never did. The witness did not know that Stinton had been called before a committee of the House of Commons, except from the report given him by serjeant Hardy.—He then withdrew.
§ Lord Althorp
was happy to find that no breach of privilege had been committed. He considered it, however, desirable that the subject should be prosecuted to an end; and in order that it might be fully recorded in their Journals, he would move that the minutes of the court-martial should be produced;
§ Mr. Beckett
conceived such a proceeding to be unusual, except in the case of Some distinct ground being laid for it. They were all agreed, he had no doubt, 1173 that the Serjeants deserved praise rather than censure for their conduct; neither was there say evidence that the soldier had been tried upon any charge connected with this transaction.
§ Mr. Tierney
said, that this was the question which was not distinctly made out by the evidence of the Serjeants. It was also matter of doubt, whether the court-martial had been suffered to go on with a knowledge of the facts, or whether tile facts only transpired at its conclusion. Mr. Wynn thought it appeared by the evidence that the man had been ordered into confinement by his officer, after the latter had been informed of the cause of his absence. This was in itself a breach of privilege, and the court-martial could scarcely have been ignorant of the circumstances. It was desirable, therefore, that the hon. officer should inform the House, what had been the immediate cause of bringing the man to a court-martial.
stated the circumstances under which he had become acquainted with the nature of the present cage, upon the man's first confinement. He had conferred with one or two members of the committee on the subject; but finding that the man had broken away from the serjeant, and had in other respects misconducted himself, he directed that he should be proceeded with in the usual way.
§ After some further conversation, the motion was agreed to.