HC Deb 22 March 1827 vol 16 cc1305-11
Mr. Spring Rice

rose to present a Petition on a matter affecting; the vital interests of parliament, and the privileges of the House. He moved, however, first, that the usual sessional order against tampering with or influencing witnesses to be examined on matters before the House, which was in that order declared to be a high misdemeanour, should be read. The order having been read, the hon. member stated, that his petition was from a Mr. Thomas Lambert, of Gal way, brother to the gentleman who had presented a petition against the return of Richard Martin, esq. The petitioner stated himself to have been since the late election, in a very delicate state of health, but upon receiving the Speaker's summons, he proceeded to London, and when in the lobby of the House, was insulted and assaulted by Martin French, esq., whom the petitioner believed to be the active supporter and warm partisan of Mr. Richard Martin. The petitioner declared he had given no provocation for such an attack, and prayed the protection of the House. The hon. member said, he did not intend to move for the attendance of the person mentioned, because he hoped that this notice of it would be enough to show that the House had the power of protecting its witnesses, and would enforce that power so as to put a stop to occurrences like that now complained of, and without which witnesses might often be exposed to difficulty and danger.

Mr. Wynn

thought the matter ought not to stop here; because it became the House to maintain its dignity and show its power. When its witnesses were molested some time ago, the House had sent a man to prison for attacking a gentleman in the lobby; and he therefore moved that the petitioner, and Mr. Martin French should be ordered to attend to-morrow.

The Speaker

asked,' if it was the pleasure of the House that the Serjeant-at-Arms should inquire if Mr. Lambert was in attendance, and the House having sig- nified their assent, the Speaker directed the Serjeant-at-Arms to proceed to the lobby, and make the necessary inquiry.

A pause of about five minutes occurred, at the expiration of which, the Serjeant-at-Arms returned to the table, and informed the Speaker, that Mr. Lambert was in attendance, and waited the pleasure of the House.

The Speaker

.—Is it the pleasure of the House that Mr. Lambert should be called in?

The House having signified their assent, the Serjeant was directed to return to the lobby, and bring Mr. Lambert to the bar of the House. In a few minutes Mr. Lambert appeared at the bar, and the following examination took place:

The Speaker

.—What is your name?—Thomas Lambert.

The Speaker

.—Is this your name attached to this petition?—This is my name.

You will now state slowly and distinctly, for the better information of the House, and in order that your answers may be taken down in writing, the nature of the occurrence complained of in your petition?

Mr. Lambert

then proceeded to state, that on Tuesday last he came down to the House, in consequence of a summons which he received to attend the committee appointed to try the Galway election. "I had not been five minutes in the lobby," the gentleman continued, "when Mr. French came up, and said, 'How do you do, Lambert, I am glad to see you,' and asked me to shake hands with him. In consequence of the conduct pursued by Mr. French, when a trial was pending on which my life was at stake, I declined to shake hands with him, but merely made him a low bow. I forgot to state that Mr. Baggot was along with me, and also a Mr. Phipps. Mr. Butler, who is a relation of mine, and a friend of Mr. French, was also with me. As soon as I made the bow, and declined to accept Mr. French's hand, he got into a violent fit of passion; so much so, that his countenance became suddenly distorted with rage. He said, 'I deserve this treatment, for contaminating this hand by offering to shake hands with such a contemptible rascal.' I bowed and thanked him. Two or three gentlemen, who happened to be in the lobby at the time, came over to my friend, Mr. Butler, and asked him if that gentleman was mad? I forgot to say, that Mr. French held out his hand in a threatening manner; but whether he intended to strike or not I cannot tell. If he had struck me, however, I should not have returned the blow. The next morning I received a note from sir Richard Birnie, to attend before him. I waited on him accordingly; and after hearing the circumstances of the quarrel, he said, that if I pledged my word of honour not to proceed any further in the business, he should not require me to give bail to keep the peace. I replied, that I was perfectly willing to comply with these terms, and pledged my word of honour accordingly."

The Speaker

.—Have you any thing further to add?

Mr. Lambert

said, "I forgot to mention that one or two gentlemen wished me to call for a constable, to give Mr. French into custody, but I declined to do so, as I did not think it necessary."

The Speaker

.—Has any hon: member any question to propose to the witness?

Mr. Spring Rice

.—Are you not in attendance in consequence of a summons issued by the Speaker, requiring your attendance as a witness before the committee appointed to investigate the merits of the Galway election?—Yes I am.

Is not Mr. French summoned as a witness also?—I believe he is.

As soon as the witness had retired from the bar,

Mr. Wynn

said, that the usual course pursued by the House in cases of this description was to call both the petitioner and the person petitioned against to the bar of the House,—a course which he suggested should be pursued to-morrow, when Mr. French would have an opportunity of replying to the charge contained in the petition.

Mr. Hobhouse

, with all due deference to the right hon. gentleman, conceived that this was not a case in which the House was called upon to interfere. No impediment had been offered—no blow had been struck; and he must observe, that if any offence was given, it was the refusal, in the first instance, of the petitioner himself to return the common courtesy which Mr. French had offered him. He was therefore of opinion, that no case had been made out to warrant the interference of the House. If, indeed, the witness had been assaulted, and rendered incapable of giving his evidence, the House in that case would be fully justified in calling the offending party to the bar.

Mr. J. Grattan

concurred in the opinion of the hon. gentleman who had just sat down. If any insult had passed between the parties, it appeared to have originated with the petitioner himself.

Sir J. Yorke

observed, that the question did not appear to be whether Mr. French was a hundred miles off from the petitioner, or only a yard; but whether an assault was committed, or attempted to be committed, within the precincts of that House.

Mr. Abercromby

agreed in the general principle, that the House had a right, in vindication of its honour and dignity, to call persons before them who were guilty of a breach of privilege; but at the same time he could not agree that the present case was one in which that power should be exerted. Another argument against the House interfering in this quarrel, was, that the civil power had already interposed between the parties. He therefore conceived, that the House would be wasting its time, and compromising its dignity, by interfering in the case.

Mr. Littleton

perfectly concurred in the view which the hon. and learned gentleman had taken of the subject. Nothing had occurred tending to a breach of the peace; and even if there had, the police had interfered to prevent any unpleasant consequences.

Mr. Spring Rice

said, that his duty, in the first instance, was confined to presenting the petition of Mr. Lambert; but now that the case was before the House, he must be permitted to say, that it was one in which they were called upon to exercise that sound and wholesome authority, which they possessed. He contended, that the consequences would be most dangerous, if insulting words, tending to a breach of the peace, were passed over without any expression of displeasure, because no blows had been struck. There was no principle more dangerous than this; and he conceived the House was imperatively called upon to discourage such a doctrine. His chief object in presenting this petition was, that persons summoned as witnesses before committees of that House, should know that the House was ready to take up any question, involving their safety or protection. He did not wish to have the person petitioned against in this case called to the bar of the House; but he hoped that the notice of this discussion would have its proper effect.

Mr. Wynn

said, that a petition having been presented, and evidence having been heard at the bar in support of its allegations, he thought it would be wrong for the House to come to the decision, that the prayer of the petition should not be entertained. Witnesses who attended that House should be protected. If a gentleman refused to shake hands with another, that was no reason why he should be threatened. After hearing the petition read and its principal allegations supported by the evidence of the petitioner, he conceived that the party complained against should be called to the bar and admonished. It was said, that the civil power had taken up the case; but in what way did it do so? Merely by calling upon the parties to pledge their honour that nothing hostile should pass between them. This might be sufficient for the purpose of keeping the peace; but the House had another duty to perform; and it was a question to be considered, whether, if this case was passed over, the House would not be surrendering that protection which they should extend to their witnesses. The better way, he conceived, would be for both the gentlemen to attend at the bar of the House to-morrow.

Mr. Bernal

said, that the right hon. gentleman opposite seemed to think that one of the parties in this case had been guilty of a breach of privilege. Now, in that opinion, he could by no means agree; for not one word had been uttered in the lobby connected with the business, on which the parties had been summoned as witnesses. He, therefore, called upon the right hon. gentleman, whose authority in such cases was certainly high, and whose memory no doubt was furnished with ample precedents, to point out any one case similar to that which was now before the Mouse. He thought it would be a hard case if the House decided that Mr. French should be called to the bar and admonished.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had not enjoyed the advantage of hearing the examination of the witness at the bar; but, from what he had heard, it rather appeared to him that the evidence did not entirely support the allegations of the petition. It was certainly questionable whether the party who had petitioned the House had exercised a sound discretion in doing so; but he had done so, and had stated that he was insulted. After the evidence which had been given, he thought that a very slight notice on the part of the House would be sufficient; but he was of opinion that both parties should be called to the bar, and should be told that the House was a privileged place, and that those who were called there came to discharge a public duty—that they must do so quietly, and that while so engaged there must be an oblivion of personal quarrels. Had he been consulted he would not have advised the presentation of this petition; but as it had been presented, and as evidence had been examined, the House could not pass it by without notice. It should be recollected, that, on these election petitions, adverse parties were brought into immediate personal collision; and it was therefore necessary to impress upon them, that those who were not inclined to quarrel should have perfect personal protection, and that those who were should restrain themselves in that place, and decide their quarrels elsewhere. He was of opinion, that both parties should be called up. So far was he from thinking, that the proceedings at Bow-street made the interference of the House less necessary, that it rendered it more so; as the friends of the parties saw there was so much personal conflict, as to warrant their application to a magistrate for his interference.

Dr. Phillimore

said, that the case appeared to be this,—two witnesses, both of whom had been summoned on an election committee, had had a quarrel, and one charged the other with a breach of privilege. Under all the circumstances, he conceived that the House would not be doing equal justice, if both parties were not ordered to attend.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

considered the point upon which the attention of the House was employed as one of the most frivolous he had ever heard discussed. He would venture to say that there was hardly ever a committee, in reference to which some trifling squabble did not occur, which might not with as much reason be made the subject of an application for the interference of the House. The hon. member to whom the petition had been intrusted had done quite right in presenting it; but he was of opinion that there was nothing in it which called for any further step on the part of the House.

Sir Robert Wilson

differed entirely from the worthy alderman, and conceived that his own arguments were sufficient to prove that it was incumbent on the House to take the matter into consideration, It did not signify what were the characters or the station of the parties; nor was it material whether the act complained of received any palliation, as to its impropriety, from any antecedent aggression. It was the duty of the House to show to the public that every witness who came within the precincts of that House, in obedience to the orders of parliament, should be protected there as if he were in a sanctuary, without reference to any previous quarrels. He therefore considered the course recommended by the Secretary of State for the Home Department as in every respect the most advisable.

Mr. Martin French

, and Mr. Thomas Lambert were ordered to attend the House to-morrow.