HC Deb 24 March 1840 vol 53 cc12-6
Sir F. Burdett

rose to call the attention of the House to the petition of G. Johnston Pearce, now in custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, which he had presented a few days ago. The short interval which had elapsed had given an opportunity to hon. Members to read the petition itself, and he could not help thinking, from the character and former services of this gentleman, as well as the extremely moderate request he now made, his case would now come strongly recommended to the favourable consideration of the House. Notwithstanding the strong opinions entertained by those on both sides who stood up for the powers or privileges of that House, he firmly believed no revengeful or vindictive feeling was entertained by any, and therefore he indulged the hope, when an inoffensive individual, an involuntary victim, had fallen under their power, they would not; aggravate the other sufferings of his confinement by a deprivation of the common necessaries of life. Mr. Pearce now stood in a most deplorable situation, from which every one must feel the necessity of relieving him. Were he a felon—had he committed any offence and been imprisoned anywhere but in the cells of the House of Commons, he would instantly have become entitled to sustenance; and all he now asked was, that the House should now grant him the means of support while in custody of their officers, so that he should not, upon his discharge, find himself compelled, by debts contracted for his maintenance, under the necessity of going to another prison over the water in order to wipe them off. Mr. Pearce, he contended, was perfectly free from blame, and, considering the length of his imprisonment, he hoped, taking his case into consideration along with the fact that they had been obliged already to discharge two other prisoners from ill health, the House would not only grant the prayer of his petition, but extend to him the further indulgence of liberty to breathe the fresh air daily, and so to preserve that health on which he relied for gaining the honest means of support for himself and family when it should please the House to discharge him from custody. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving, "That Thos. George Johnston Pearce be excused from the payment of the sum of 4l. 19s. being the cost of his maintenance during his confinement; and that the Sergeant-at-Arms be directed to supply the said Thomas George Johnston Pearce with rations free of expense."

Sir R. Inglis

seconded the motion. It was nothing more than a prayer for food. The House had deprived this gentleman—for gentleman he was by birth, education, and service—they had deprived him of the humble means by which he formerly earned his bread; he did not ask for liberty, but, with the recollections of an old soldier, for rations of food to prevent him from starving in prison. He hoped the noble Lord, not content with granting the prayer of the petition, would see the propriety of shortly releasing him and the other prisoners altogether from confinement.

The petition was read by the clerk, and set forth— That your petitioner is confined under the authority of the warrant of the right hon. the Speaker of your hon. House, for having been guilty of an alleged high contempt and breach of the privileges thereof. That, upon the incarceration of your petitioner, he was deprived of his means of supporting himself and his family, and is now without any pecuniary resources, other than the contributions of a charitable and sympathizing public. That your petitioner was supplied with provisions by Mr. Bellamy, the keeper of your hon. House, from the 9th day of February last, the day of his committal, until Friday, the 6th of March inst., when, to the great surprise of your petitioner, he had a bill delivered to him by that gentleman, amounting to the sum of 4l. 19s., being the cost of the maintenance of your petitioner during that period. That your petitioner being unable, from the circumstances above set forth, to meet this demand, humbly prays your hon. House to direct that the payment of the same sum may be excused to him; and further to order that the Sergeant-at-Arms attending your hon. House may in future supply your petitioner with rations free of cost.

Lord J. Russell

really did not see that it was necessary for the House to take any step upon this subject. The usual course was for parties committed by order of the House to pay for their own maintenance, and very often the fees upon their discharge. But the case of a person of extreme poverty, alleging also, as in this instance, his extreme ignorance of the privileges of that House, was so far entitled to compassion, that when the moment came for his discharge the House would be disposed to take the necessary measures, so that there might not be those proceedings against him in courts of law which had been alluded to, and that he should be imprisoned for debt to the Sergeant at-Arms. But at the present moment he did not see, considering the extent of sympathy which had been excited in his behalf in other quarters, that the House was called on to make any order.

Sir E. Knatchbull

was disposed to think the statement of the noble Lord so far satisfactory, if he meant it as an assurance that any reasonable charges incurred for maintenance while in custody would be fairly met when Mr. Pearce should be discharged. But what possible motive could there be in detaining this person any longer in custody? The noble Lord might talk of the sympathy which had been excited elsewhere on the part of these prisoners, but in his own opinion the House had vindicated its privileges in a manner which was altogether unjustifiable. When he looked at the course which had been taken in this case, he could not altogether dismiss from his mind the idea that some degree of vindictive punishment had been resorted to. He would take on himself to say, that if the noble Lord had met this motion by an amendment for the prisoner's discharge, he would have acted more in accordance with the feelings of a large majority on both sides of the House, and the entire approbation of at least nine-tenths of the people out of doors.

Lord J. Russell

, in explanation, observed, that what he had stated was, that if it should turn out that the person in custody was in such a state of extreme poverty that he could not discharge these bills, incurred during his confinement, that circumstance might probably be a subject for consideration with the House at the time of his liberation. He must add, both with respect to this prisoner and many Others, that if they had not met with so much sympathy from the right hon. Gentleman and other hon. Gentlemen opposite, they would not have been sustained by a feeling of false pride in resisting the orders of this House, and the House would have got rid of these questions much sooner.

Sir E. Knatchbull

denied that to his conduct was attributable any resistance on the part of others to the orders of the House.

Sir E. Sugden

said, that there could be no objection to the proposition of the noble Lord, if the officer of the House continued, as formerly, to supply Mr. Pearce with food; but the fact was, that Mr. Bellamy had refused him any further supply. While the sheriffs were in custody he had abstained from visiting them, as well as from every other act which might be considered disrespectful to the majority of the House; but if the noble Lord refused the present application, he would himself, on moderate terms, maintain Mr. Pearce.

Mr. Labouchere

complained of the man- ner in which the question had been discussed, as if the prisoner was in danger of starvation. Had such been the case, would the hon. Baronet who presented Mr. Pearce's petition on the 12th of March, have allowed the matter to stand over for so many days? The speech of the hon. Member for Kent was most extraordinary, for he began by saying that the statement of the noble Lord was satisfactory, and concluded by denouncing it as highly improper. He regarded these motions as frivolous attempts to divert the attention of the public from the real question at issue—whether or not the important privileges of the House should be maintained.

Mr. Law

felt so entirely satisfied with the undertaking of the noble Lord for the payment of this small bill, that he was anxious to give him the opportunity of at once carrying his good intentions into effect; and he should therefore move, as an amendment, to substitute for the words "That Mr. Pearce be excused from the payment," "that he be forthwith discharged from the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms.

The House divided on the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question, Ayes 98; Noes 56: Majority 42.

List of the AYES.
Aglionhy, H. A. Guest, Sir J.
Aglionby, Major Harcourt, G. G.
Archbold, R. Hastie, A.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Hawes, B.
Barnard, E. G. Hector, C. J.
Barron, H. W. Hepburn, Sir T. B.
Beamish, F. B. Hobhouse, Sir J.
Bellew, R. M. Hobhouse, T. B.
Bewes, T. Hodges, T. L.
Brocklehurst, J. Hope, hon. C.
Brodie, W. B. Horsman, E.
Brotherton, J. Howard, hon. E. G. G.
Busfield, W. Howard, P. H.
Byng, G. Hume, J.
Campbell, Sir J. Hutt, W.
Clay, W. Hutton, R.
Clive, E. B. James, W.
Compton, H. C. Knight, H. G.
Corbally, M. E. Labouchere, H.
Courtenay, P. Lister, E. C.
Crawford, W. Mackinnon, W. A.
Currie, R. Mildmay, P. St. J.
Divett, E. Milnes, R. M.
Ellis, W. Morpeth, Viscount
Fleetwood, Sir P. H. Muntz, G. F.
Gordon, R. O'Connell, D.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. O'Connell, M.
Grey rt. hon. Sir C. O'Conor, Don
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Paget, F.
Palmerston, Viscount Strickland, Sir G.
Parker, J. Strutt, E.
Parker, R. T. Teignmouth, Lord
Philips, M. Thornely, T.
Pigot, D. R. Townley, R. G.
Pinney, W. Tufnell, H.
Price, Sir R. Verney, Sir H.
Reid, Sir J. R. Vigors, N. A.
Rice, E. R. Vivian, Major C.
Roche, W. Vivian, Sir R. H.
Rundle, J. Warburton, H.
Russell, Lord J. Ward, H. G.
Salwey, Colonel Wilbraham, G.
Sanford, E. A. Williams, W.
Scholefield, J. Wilshere, W.
Slaney, R. A. Worsley, Lord
Smith, G. R. Wyse, T.
Smith, R. V. Yates, J. A.
Somerville, Sir W. M.
Stansfield, W. R. C. TELLERS.
Staunton, Sir G. T. Burdett, Sir F.
Stuart, Lord J. Inglis, Sir R. H.
List of the NOES.
A'Court, Captain Knatchbull, Sir E.
Baillie, Colonel Mackenzie, T.
Baring, H. B. Mahon, Viscount
Baring, hon. W. B. Mordaunt, Sir J.
Bentinck, Lord G. Neeld, J.
Boldero, H. G. Nicholl, J.
Broadley, H. Norreys, Lord
Bruges, W. H. L. Packe, C. W.
Christopher, R. A. Perceval, Colonel
D'Israeli, B. Pigot, R.
Duncombe, T. Plumptre, J. P.
Duncombe, hon. W. Powerscourt, Lord
Egerton, W. T. Praed, W. T.
Fielden, J. Pringle, A.
Fector, J. Richards, R.
Filmer, Sir E. Rolleston, L.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Rushout, G.
Fleming, J. Scarlett, hon. J. Y.
Forester, hon. G. Sheppard, T.
Gladstone, W. E. Sibthorp, Colonel
Grimsditch, T. Somerset, Lord G.
Halford, H. Stanley, E.
Hamilton, Lord C. Style, Sir C.
Henniker, Lord Sugden, rt. hn. Sir E.
Herries, rt. hon. J. C. Vivian, J. E.
Holmes, W. A'Court Wood, Sir M.
Hope, G. W.
Houldsworth, T. TELLERS.
Jones, J. Law, hon. C.
Kelburne, Viscount Barrington, Lord

The House again divided on the main question: Ayes 63; Noes 88; Majority 25.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. Boldero, H. G.
A'Court, Captain Broadley, H.
Baillie, Colonel Bruges, W. H. L.
Baring, H. B. Christopher, R. A.
Baring, hon. W. B. Compton, H. C.
Barrington, Viscount Courtenay, P.
Bentinck, Lord G. D'Israeli, B.
Duncombe, T. Mordaunt, Sir J.
Duncombe, hon. W. Neeld, J.
Egerton, W. T. Nicholl, John
Fielden, J. Norreys, Lord
Fector, J. M. Packe, C. W.
Filmer, Sir E. Parker, R. T.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Perceval, Colonel
Fleming, J. Pigot, R.
Forester, hon. G. Plumptre, J. P.
Gladstone, W. E. Powerscourt, Lord
Grimsditch, T. Praed, W. T.
Halford, H. Pringle, A.
Hamilton, Lord C. Richards, R.
Henniker, Lord Rolleston, L.
Herries, rt. hon. J. C. Rushout, G.
Holmes, W. A'Court Scarlett, hon. J.
Hope, G. W. Sheppard, T.
Houldsworth, T. Sibthorp, Colonel
Jones, J. Somerset, Lord G.
Kelburne, Viscount Stanley, E.
Knatchbull, Sir E. Style, Sir C.
Knight, H. G. Surrey, Earl of
Law, hon. C. E. Teignmouth, Lord
Mackenzie, T. TELLERS.
Mackinnon, W. A. Burdett, Sir F.
Milnes, R. M. Inglis, Sir R. H.
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Hutton, R.
Aglionby, Major James, W.
Archbold, R. Labouchere, rt. hn. H.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Lister, E. C.
Barnard, E. G. Mildmay, P. St. John
Barron, H. W. Morpeth, Viscount
Beamish, F. B. Muntz, G. F.
Bellew, R. M. O'Connell, D.
Bewes, T. O'Connell, M.
Brocklehurst, J. O'Conor, Don
Brodie, W. B. Paget, F.
Brotherton, J. Palmerston, Viscount
Busfield, W. Philips, M.
Byng, G. Pigot, D. R.
Campbell, Sir J. Pinney, W.
Clay, W. Price, Sir R.
Clive, E. B. Reid, Sir J. R.
Corbally, M. E. Rice, E. R.
Crawford, W. Roche, W.
Currie, R. Rundle, J.
Divett, E. Russell, Lord J.
Ellis, W. Salwey, Colonel
Gordon, R. Sanford, E. A.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir C. Scholefield, J.
Guest, Sir J. Slaney, R. A.
Harcourt, G. G. Smith, G. R.
Hastie, A. Smith, R. V.
Hawes, B. Somerville, Sir W. M.
Hector, C. J. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Hepburn, Sir T. B. Staunton, Sir G. T.
Hobhouse, Sir J. Stuart, Lord J.
Hobhouse, T. B. Strutt, E.
Hodges, T. L. Strickland, Sir G.
Hope, hon. C. Thornely, T.
Horsman, E. Townley, R. G.
Howard, hon. E. G. G. Tufnell, H.
Howard, P. H. Verney, Sir H.
Hume, J. Vigors, N. A.
Hutt, W. Vivian, Major C.
Vivian, rt. hon. Sir R. H. Worsley, Lord
Warburton, H. Wyse, T.
Ward, H. G. Yates, J. A.
Wilbraham, G.
Williams, W. TELLERS.
Wilshere, W. Grey, Sir G.
Wood, Sir M. Parker, J.