HC Deb 14 May 1840 vol 54 cc115-7
Mr. Thomas Duncombe

rose to move for the discharge of John Joseph Stockdale and Thomas Burton Howard from the custody of the gaoler of Newgate, to whom they had been committed for a breach of the privileges of the House of Commons. As the House had been so very lenient towards the parties whose names had been brought before the House this evening, he hoped it would be equally lenient to the two individuals who must have been sufficiently punished for the offence they had committed. He wished to state, in asking the House to discharge Mr. Stockdale and Mr. Howard, that he did not do it at all for the sake of the individuals themselves, but because he entertained the opinion that the law had been violated in their persons, and that they had been treated unjustly. But he did not wish to enter into any topics which might create a debate, and having heard the opinions of several hon. Members around him upon this question, he had every reason to believe, that no opposition would be made to his motion. If any should be offered, he was ready to state the reasons which he thought ought to induce the House to discharge these individuals. The hon. Gentleman concluded by submitting his motion to the House.

Mr. Warburton

did not object to the release of these persons, but he consented to their release for a very different reason from that assigned by his hon. Friend. His hon. Friend thought that their punishment was unjust. He was of opinion that their punishment was very just. But as Parliament had now placed it out of the power of these individuals, or of any other individuals, to commit a similar offence, by the passing of an Act of Parliament to authorize the publication of Parliamentary Papers he considered the punishment of these persons was no longer necessary. The object of all punishment was to deter men from the commission of offences; if, then, the law deprived parties of the power to commit a certain offence, punishment was not necessary. It was upon that principle alone, and not because he considered these parties had been sufficiently or unjustly punished that he assented to the motion.

Mr. Hume

said, that for the reasons assigned by his hon. Friend the Member for Bridport, and seeing that the Government were not opposed to the proposition, he was of opinion that the House ought not any longer to retain these persons in custody. He considered this to be a night of general gaol delivery; and therefore he was willing to include Stockdale and Howard with the culprits of Ludlow and Cambridge in one general act of grace; and he hoped that none of the parties would be guilty of repeating their offences.

Mr. Pryme

was never more surprised than at hearing the sentiments which had been expressed by the hon. Members for Bridport and Kilkenny. It had been the invariable custom and practice of the House when any person had committed a contempt of its privileges, and had come under its displeasure, not to release that individual except on petition acknowledging his offence. Now, if ever there was a case of gross contempt, it was that which these individuals had committed in having persevered in doing that which the House had distinctly voted to be an offence, and of repeating that offence while under confinement. Why was the House to deviate, in this instance, from that which had been the uniform practice—namely, of requiring the parties to petition for their discharge? If the parties did not choose to petition, they were not entitled to any feeling of sympathy. They had persevered as long as they could in bringing fresh actions, which had been previously voted to be a contempt of the House. They had been for some time in confinement, it was true, and if they would present a petition for their discharge he should not object to it, but until they did he thought the usual practice of the House ought not to be departed from, and that they ought not to be discharged. It was said, that they could not repeat the offence. True; but he was not aware that the action against the Sergeant-at-Arms had been abandoned. But be that as it might, he considered the original offence was by no means purged by their imprisonment.

Mr. Labouchere

wished to say, that though he should vote for the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, he yet agreed with the observations of his hon. Friends the Members for Bridport and Kilkenny. He did not think that either Mr. Stockdale or Mr. Howard had any peculiar claim upon the indulgence of the House; still he was of opinion that it would be much better to have all the matters connected with the privilege question finally disposed of. The House having now obtained the means of enforcing this portion of their privileges, he thought it would have the appearance of a vindictive proceeding to persevere any longer in the contest with these parties. At the same time he thought it would have been wrong if the House had liberated them until that measure to which he alluded was passed. But now he thought it would become the House not to look too closely or narrowly into what might have been the quality of the offence of these individuals. Besides, he believed the public feeling would be best satisfied by the House permitting these individuals to be released.

Mr. Baines

wished that the clemency which had been so generally extended to night were still further extended, and allowed to embrace the case of John Thorogood.

Motion agreed to.