HC Deb 20 March 1840 vol 52 cc1257-63
Mr. T. Duncombe

presented the petition of John Joseph Stockdale, now a prisoner in the gaol of Newgate, under and by virtue of the Speaker's warrant, praying that Mr. Howard, his attorney, his son the younger Mr. Howard, and the attorney's clerk, now confined in the gaol of Newgate, should be liberated, and that he himself should be permitted to be heard at the bar of the House against any bill affecting his right to plead in a court of law. The hon. Member moved that the petition be read by the clerk, which was agreed to, but it was perfectly inaudible in the gallery.

Lord John Russell

hoped the hon. Member for Finsbury would not press the reception of this petition upon the House. It was so far from being respectful in its terms, that he must oppose its being received.

Mr. T. Duncombe

really did not know what passage in the petition the noble Lord considered as an insult to the House. He wished the noble Lord would mention what passage in the petition he considered to be an insult. He had read the petition, as he considered himself in a certain degree responsible for the language of the petitions he presented being respectful, and he must say he thought there was nothing improper in the petition. There were a few quotations from scripture in it, but the noble Lord could not object to them. He had so far considered the petition a proper one that he had intended to move the prayer of it should be granted, and that Stockdale should be heard at the bar of the House, previous to the third reading of the bill, which, as regarded Mr. Stockdale, was a bill of pains and penalties; and it was always usual in a case of that sort that the individual in- tended to be affected should be heard against it. He thought that Mr. Stock-dale had certainly some claim on the House, because from the day he had been committed into the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms he had never been asked if he had anything to say in extenuation or explanation of his conduct, which the other prisoners had been. He should be sorry to convey anything disrespectful to the House, but until he knew what the objectionable passage was, he could not, in justice to Mr. Stockdale, consent to withdraw the petition.

Viscount Howick

said, that if the hon. Member for Finsbury pressed the petition, he should feel it to be his duty to move that it be rejected.

Mr. Hume

thought that the House ought to know what the objectionable parts were. The clerk had certainly read the petition, but he believed the House had not heard one word of it. Some means must be adopted by which the petitions might be heard; and he thought that, in fairness to this case, they ought to know what the passages were which the noble Lord objected to.

Mr. Labouchere

observed, that the petition was read in such a tone of voice, that if the House had been silent, every word might have been heard. If it was not heard the fault was with the House, and not with the clerk.

Sir Edward Sugden

said, the petition was read very distinctly, but the House not being aware that an objection would be taken on account of the language of it, had not paid particular attention while it was read. He had caught the substance of it, but had not caught the particular words.

Captain Boldero

thought that, as the hon. Member for Finsbury had stated he had read the petition, and that he did not think there was anything disrespectful in it, the House ought to rely upon his word and receive the petition as unobjectionable, on the responsibility of the hon. Member who presented it.

The petition was again read.

It alleged that the son of the attorney owed naturally a duty to his father, and the clerk was bound to obey the commands of his master as his servant; they, therefore, ought to be considered guiltless of any offence against the House in the case of the actions brought by Mr. Howard for the petitioner, and ought to be forthwith dis- charged. That Mr. Howard himself was with difficulty induced to undertake the actions, and only did so in consequence of the urgency of the petitioner. Mr. Howard in a note to him (Mr. Stockdale) stated, it is with reluctance I feel obliged to decline bringing the action against Messrs. Hansard, as I conceive it would be considered a breach of privilege by the House of Commons. The petitioner further stated, that he was suffering the consequences of the groundless displeasure of the House for having availed himself of his just rights under Magna Charta. That, contrary to that charter, the under-sheriff refused, under the sanction of this House, to execute an inquiry as to the amount of damages alleged by him to have been sustained by reason of a libel published against him by the printer. The words of Magna Charta were decisively in his favour, where it stated, "Nulli negabimus, nulli vendemus, vel differemus justitiam vel rectum." The under-sheriff, in reference to the latter part of the passage from Magna Charta, had violated the ancient law of the land, and defeated the right of trial by jury, and the petitioner was rendered a victim to the powerful conspiracy to defeat his rights. The petition concluded by praying for the release of those confined on account of the actions brought by him, so that he might alone suffer the consequences of their groundless displeasure; and also, that, before the House proceeded to pass the Printed Papers Bill, which had reference to those actions, he should be heard, in person, at the bar of the House.

Lord J. Russell

said, that Stockdale having been committed for a breach of privilege, now approached the House under the guise of a petitioner, alleging that their proceedings were illegal, and their displeasure groundless; while, on the other hand, the sheriffs, by whom petitions had been presented, addressed the House in decorous and respectful terms; but the present petitioner not merely was disrespectful—not merely spoke of their proceedings in no measured terms, but sought to impute to them some of the gravest offences known to the law. He need not recur to other parts of the petition for the purpose of showing the disposition which the petitioner manifested to display what he thought his triumph over the House. He must say, that he did not think the petition was one which ought to lie on the table of the House.

Sir R. Inglis

observed, that the effect of the supposed innuendoes depended upon the interpretation of the quotations. They night or might not apply to the House. [Cheers.] He apprehended from those cheers it was assumed that, as a matter of course, those innuendoes were intended as an insult to the House. Now, he was truck with the very temperate tone of the petition. One of the phrases in it that was complained of was," that his liberty had been erroneously invaded," but in his (Sir R. Inglis's) opinion, a milder phrase for a person who was incarcerated in her Majesty's gaol of Newgate was not to be found in any similar document. If any person could complain of the petition, it was the sheriff, for he was attacked in open terms without any innuendoes, and was accused "of having unconstitutionally acted in the matters of this petitioner." At least the House would regard with leniency the feelings of a man who considered himself to be unjustly confined by their order. He would ask them, if it were not too great a condescension on their part, to put themselves in the position of the person now interested. That person had been incarcerated for seeking compensation for a wrong which, in the opinion of a jury of his country, he had received—a judgment, too, which the House had themselves invoked. It would not, in his opinion, be proper to analyze too strictly the terms of the petition in which the petitioner did not ask to be released, but simply to be permitted to plead at the bar of the House in his own defence. Under these circumstances, he trusted that the noble Lord would not continue his opposition; but, if he did, he should divide with the hon. Member for Finsbury.

Viscount Howick

merely wished to say, that, in his opinion, it was impossible for the House to listen to this petition, and not perceive that it offered a deliberate insult to the House. The petitioner talked of his illegal detention. That might be the opinion of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but was not the opinion of the majority of the House. It appeared to him that it was impossible the House could receive this petition, and he should, therefore, move that it be rejected.

Sir G. Strickland

said, that although he joined the noble Lord and majority of the House in supporting their privileges, he could not consider that, in this instance, he should be doing justice to the petitioner if his petition were rejected. All that was required by the House was, that a petition should be respectfully worded. The question, therefore, now was whether this petition was so worded, and he really thought no one could doubt that the concluding part of the petition was quite in accordance with the rules and customs of the House. The only way in which the petition could be made disrespectful to the House was, that Stockdale had had the bad taste to interlard certain portions of Scriptures which, perhaps, might bear the construction of an intention to insult the House. He thought they ought also to take into consideration that this man was placed in durance vile, and upon these grounds he should vote that the petition be received.

Mr. Hume

said, he had supported the noble Lord in defence of the House, but as he had brought in a bill by which he declared all their proceedings illegal, that was all the difference between him and the noble Lord. Why, the noble Lord declared he required a new law, and consequently that he had previously been acting without any law. How, then, could the House object to this petition, because it said, that the petitioner had been illegally confined?

Mr. Greene

objected to the petition, because it contained irreverend quotations from Scripture.

Sir E. Sugden

wished that the noble Lord had not placed the House in this state of embarrassment. It could not be denied that these actions had been vexatiously brought by Stockdale, but the House ought not to be very delicate in the terms of the petitions of this nature, for Stockdale had the law on his side, although the House considered their law superior. He thought the petition was couched in a very bad sense, and he could very much have wished it had not been done; but, as they were carrying through a bill for putting a speedy end to these actions, which by law could now be brought, surely Stockdale might be heard at the bar in his own defence. They would not, however, shut out that remedy if they proceeded with the bill, and rejected this petition. He should, therefore, reluctlantly vote against the noble Lord.

Sir R. Peel

said, he should always be reluctant to reject petitions on the ground of any captious objections. They ought not to seek for any pretence for doing so; but he thought that, if there were an evident intention of offering a deliberate insult to any authority, that authority ought not to receive such petition, not so much on the ground of its offended dignity, as for the purpose of defending the sacred right of petitioning. The question, then, must resolve itself into this—was there, in this instance, a deliberate insult offered to the House? He thought there was. He could not understand what other object the petitioner had in quoting, as he had done, from a work which he printed in 1827, and published in 1831. When he saw those quotations, he could not hesitate to say, that he thought the mation went as near as possible to offering an insult to the House. And as for the quotations from the Scriptures, he thought it a very bad practice, especially when they were introduced for the purpose of insult If, therefore, he were to decide on the intention of this petition, he could not say but he thought there was an intention to insult the House, and that no petitioner had a right to use any terms which approached an insult. It was difficult, how ever, to exercise any discretion on a petition, except to reject it, particularly as it had been reserved until the last moment of the last day. He thought, also, there was another ground for rejecting it. By a large majority the House had determined they were in possession of this privilege. They had committed the sheriffs for not respecting that: one of the under-sheriffs had shown every disposition to defer to the authority of the House, and evert those who differed from the majority had given credit to the sheriffs for doing every thing in their power to conciliate their duty to the House. The under-sheriff had presented a petition to the House, and this was the way in which the present petitioner had spoken of him, to this effect—that the petitioner found, from the printed evidence taken at the bar of the House, that the under-sheriff had done all in his power to delay the administration of justice for unconstitutional purposes, and to save the House the amount of the compensation awarded to him. If the House of Commons declined to receive this petition, it would be because they had a right to require that the petitions pre- sented to them, however firm and plain spoken they might be, should be couched in respectful language, and not in such language as that of the present petition.

The House divided on the original question, that the petition lie on the table.—Ayes 25; Noes 196: Majority 171

List of the AYES.
Boldero, H. G. Maunsell, T. P.
Bradshaw, J. Neeld, J.
Chute, W. L. W. Norreys, Lord
Duncombe, hon. W. Palmer, R.
Duncombe, hon. A. Plumptre, J. P.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Polhill, F.
Gisborne, T. Strickland, Sir G.
Grimsditch, T. Sugden, rt. hon. Sir E.
Ingestrie, Visct. Wakley, T.
Inglis, Sir R. H. Wood, Sir M.
Jones, J. Wood, Colonel T.
Knatchbull, rt. hon. Sir E.
Mackenzie, T. Duncombe, T.
Mahon, Viscount Hume, J.
List of the NOES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Curry, Sergeant
Aglionby, H. A. Dalmeny, Lord
Aglionby, Major Damer, hon. D.
Anson, hon. Col. Davies, Colonel
Archbold, R. Denison, W. J.
Baillie, Colonel Dennistoun, J.
Baines, E. Donkin, Sir R. S.
Bannerman, A. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Dundas, C. W. D.
Barnard, E. G. Du Pre, G.
Barrington, Visct. Egerton, W. T.
Barron, H. W. Elliot, hon. J. E.
Barry, G. S. Ellice, Captain A.
Bentinck, Lord G. Ellice, E.
Bernal, R. Ellis, W.
Bewes, T. Evans, Sir De L.
Blake, W. J. Evans, G.
Bowes, J. Feilden, W.
Broadley, H. Filmer, Sir E.
Broadwood, H. Fox, S. L.
Brocklehurst, J. Fremantle, Sir T.
Brotherton, J. French, F.
Brownrigg, S. Gordon, R.
Bruges, W. H. L. Gordon, hon. Captain
Buller, E. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.
Busfeild, W. Greene, T.
Byng, G. Grey, rt. hon. Sir C.
Campbell, Sir J. Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Chichester, J. P. B. Grimston, Viscount
Clay, W. Guest, Sir J.
Clerk, Sir G. Hamilton, Lord C.
Clive, E. B. Hardinge,rt.hon.SirH.
Collier, J. Harland, W. C.
Colquhoun, J. C. Hastie, A.
Compton, H. C. Hawes, B.
Coote, Sir C. H. Hawkins, J. H.
Corry, hon. H. Hayter, W. G.
Courtenay, P. Heathcoat, J.
Currie, R. Hector, C. J.
Heneage, E. Rae, rt. hon. Sir W.
Henniker, Lord Rice, E. R.
Herries, rt. hon. J. Rich, H.
Hill, Lord, A. M. C. Richards, R.
Hobhouse, T. B. Roche, W.
Hodgson, R. Rushbrooke, Colonel
Hope, hon. C. Russell, Lord J.
Hope, G. W. Salwey, Colonel
Houstoun, G. Scholefield, J.
Howard, P. H. Seymour, Lord
Howick, Visc. Sheppard, T.
Humphrey, J. Sinclair, Sir G.
Hutt, F. Slaney, R. A.
Hutt, W. Smith, A.
Hutton, R. Smith, R. V.
Irving, J. Somers, J. P.
James, W. Somerville, Sir W. M.
James, Sir W. C. Stanley, hon. W. O.
Knight, H. G. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Knox, hon. T. Staunton, Sir G. T.
Lambton, H. Stewart, J.
Langdale, hon. C. Stuart, Lord J.
Lascelles, hon. W. S. Stock, Dr.
Lemon, Sir C. Strutt, E.
Lennox, Lord G. Tancred, H. W.
Lister, E. C. Teignmouth, Lord
Loch, J. Thornley, T.
Lockhart, A. M. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Lushington, C. Tufnell, H.
Lushington, rt. hon. S. Turner, E.
Macaulay, rt. hon. T. B. Vere, Sir C. B.
Mackinnon, W. A. Vernon, G. H.
M'Taggart, J. Vigors, N. A.
Marton, G. Vivian, J. H.
Maule, hon. F. Vivian, rt. hn. Sir R. H.
Melgund, Viscount Waddington, H. S.
Mildmay, P. St. J. Wall, C. B.
Morpeth, Viscount Wallace, R.
Morris, D. Warburton, H.
Muskett, G. A. Ward, H. G.
Nicholl, J. White, A.
Noel, hon. C. G. Wilbraham, G.
O'Brien, W. S. Wilde, Sergeant
O'Callaghan, hon. C. Williams, W.
O'Connell, M. Williams, W. A.
O'Ferrall, R. M. Winnington, Sir T. E.
Ord, W. Winnington, H. J.
Paget, F. Wodehouse, E.
Pakington, J. S. Wood, Colonel
Patten, J. W. Wood, G. W.
Pattison, J. Wood, B.
Peel, rt. hon. Sir R. Worsley, Lord
Philips, M. Wrightson, W. B.
Philips, G. R. Wyse, T.
Pigot, D. R. Yates, J. A.
Pigot, R. Young, J.
Planta, right hon. J. TELLERS.
Praed, W. T. Stanley, E. J.
Pusey, P. Parker, J.

Petition rejected.

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