HC Deb 13 April 1842 vol 62 cc370-6
Mr. T. Duncombe,

in rising to move, according to the notice he had given, that Richard Gibbons be called to the bar, reprimanded by Mr. Speaker, and discharged, hoped he might be allowed to present a petition which he had received that morning, and which was signed by several respectable individuals acquainted with Mr. Gibbons. The petitioners were inhabitants of Great Marlow and its neighbourhood, and they stated that they had known Mr. Gibbons for several years; that they believed him to be a person totally incapable of committing perjury, or giving false testimony in order to mislead any committee of that House, and praying the House to treat him with leniency, and take into consideration the motion he was about to make. The petition was signed by Sir G. Nugent, the Rev. A. Clayton, Mr. Hickman, Sir C. East, Sir W. Clayton, Mr. Scott Murray, the hon. Member for the county of Bucks, and others. He would only preface what he had to say in mitigation of the error Mr. Gibbons had committed by stating, that he had no personal acquaintance with that individual, and that, were he not satisfied from the representations of Gentlemen who knew him, confirmed as they were by those persons who had signed this petition, he should not have considered the station in. life which Mr. Gibbons filled, or his being a wealthy man, but should at once have refused to advocate his cause; because he thought that a person holding such a position in society as Mr.. Gibbons, ought to suffer for such an offence a punishment ten times more severe than an individual in a humbler station of life. He was, however, convinced that the individual in question did not intend to give false testimony to the committee, and had no intention thereby to pervert the ends of justice. Mr. Gibbons stated in his petition that he was called before the committee on Tuesday, the 5th of April, to give evidence with regard to the vote of a person named Charles Gibbons, and that, having given his evidence, he was subjected to a severe cross-examination by the counsel for the petitioners, and in the course of it was incidentally examined on matters relative to the canvass of other voters not material to the issue then before the committee. It appeared that the vote of Charles Gibbons was disposed of, and this individual was then examined with reference to the canvass of two voters named Pusey and Povey; and whatever evidence he gave relative to them was not material to e question then before the committee. Very little attention was apparently paid by the committee or the counsel on either side to his evidence as to those two voters; but on the Thursday following he was again summoned to give evidence on the vote of Povey, by the agent of the petitioners; and not, as misstated in the proceedings of the committee, by the agent of Sir W. Clayton. That made a material difference, for the House would remark that if he had been aware of having given any false testimony, it was not very likely that this individual would have almost volunteered to be called again, when his perjury might be so satisfactorily proved. On the Thursday, then, he went before the committee, and stated that Povey had been canvassed by him, which was contrary to his former statement on the Tuesday. He said in his petition that he was unused to examination in a court of justice, and that in his examination he was further confused between the names of Povey and Pusey. He admitted that his two statements were contradictory, but denied that he had made them with any dishonest or corrupt intent wilfully to mislead the House or defeat the ends of justice. He then in his petition expressed his deep regret and contrition for his said error and offence, and prayed the House to deal leniently with him. He would not trouble the House with the mass of evidence all relating to the examination of this unfortunate witness, but if hon. Members read the examination in chief, and the cross-examination of Mr. Gibbons, they would be surprised to see the kind of ordeal to which he had been subjected. It was sufficient to confuse any man. If a person in Mr. Gibbons's position in life had given false evidence to mislead the committee, merely sentencing him to Newgate would not be sufficient, but the Attorney-general should be instructed to prosecute him for perjury. But he would just read one question that was put to him on the last day when his attention was called to the conflicting statements he had made. The hon. Member was then proceeding to read from the evidence, when

The Speaker

said, the hon. Member could not read evidence which was not yet before the House.

Mr. Duncombe

Well, he could only say, that this witness was examined and badgered for an hour and a half by the counsel; and what occurred, as far as he could recollect, on that occasion was this, that when he was asked, "Is that a true answer? Do you admit that that conflicts with what you stated on a former day?" he said," This is a true answer, and if I stated to the contrary of that on a former day, I must have been misunderstood and misrepresented." The room was then cleared, and the committee immediately, without giving any notice to the witness, came to the resolution which was stated to the House by the hon. Baronet the Member for South Devonshire, viz.▀× That in the opinion of this committee Richard Gibbons has been guilty of wilfully giving false evidence in his examination before them; that the chairman do, by warrant under his hand, commit the said Richard Gibbons to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms to await the pleasure of the House. In his (Mr. Duncombe's) opinion it was unjust toward this individual, that the committee should have come to such a resolution without giving him any opportunity of explaining that which he believed he would satisfactorily have explained if he had been called before them. He found by the act passed last year by the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. Peel) that if any witness before such a committee should give false testimony or prevaricate, the chairman might commit him to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms; but he must say, the committee seemed to have gone too far in saying that this witness was guilty of wilfully giving false evidence. That might have been their opinion, but before they condemned the man, they ought to have heard him once more in explanation of the statements he had made. He believed that the witness was never more astonished than when, upon leaving the room, he was immediately laid hold of by the Sergeant-at-Arms, brought to the bar of this House, and sent instanter to Newgate; and yet, not to that moment had he been allowed any opportunity of explaining his answers to the House. On the part of this individual, he offered this explanation. The House would deal with him as they thought proper; but as he confessed that he was in error, and stated that he had no intention to defeat the ends of justice, he should move that he be brought to the bar, reprimanded by Mr. Speaker, and discharged.

Sir J. Y. Buller

was very sorry that he could not concur in the motion of the hon. Member for Finsbury, recommending this person to the lenient consideration of the House: and he took that course from the strong conviction upon his own mind, and the mind of every other member of the committee, that this gentleman, respectable though he might be, as was attested by those persons who signed the petition in his favour, not only gave evidence incorrect in truth, but gave it wilfully. Mr. Gibbons sheltered himself by saying, that he was excessively confused at the time he made the statement in question, but he would call the attention of the House to the fact, that when Mr. Gibbons gave that evidence on the 5th of April, it was at a period when he was perfectly cool and collected, and not at a time when he was ordered by the committee to be brought before them forthwith; and one of the strongest circumstances that weighed with the committee was, that when he was called in on the second occasion he contradicted the whole of his former evidence. No man who went before a committee determined to speak the truth need be afraid; there was but one way of telling the truth, and what was the truth on Tuesday was the truth on Thursday. With regard to his being confused, by being taken on another part of the evidence, as to the votes of Povey and Pusey, he must say, that there appeared no confusion in the witness's manner when he was asked the question on the Tuesday. No one could help regretting to find a person in Mr. Gibbons's position guilty of giving incorrect evidence. When such a petition as this was presented in his favour he must be supposed to be a respectable man, and it must, therefore, be a matter of pain to the committee to be obliged to say, that he had wilfully given false evidence. With regard to the word "wilful" in the resolution of the committee, it might perhaps be a little too strong an expression. All that they meant to express was, that Mr. Gibbons did, to a certain extent, know that he was not speaking the exact truth before the committee; and-such certainly was the impression on his mind. It would not perhaps be well for any other than a legal Member to recommend the indictment of this individual for perjury; but certainly that punishment which he had hitherto received was utterly inadequate. This was the first case of so serious a nature which had occurred; and, therefore, the House was required to make an example. Sorry, therefore, as he was to take any course savouring of severity, his sense of duty constrained him on this occasion to adopt it.

Mr. Cowper

as a member of the committee felt bound to declare his concurrence in the opinion just expressed; he could not conceal from himself the conviction that the person in question had most deliberately spoken falsely, and, painful as it was to apply to any person the term "perjured," he could not avoid applying it in the present case. Nor was it possible to forget, that however this individual's case might excite commiseration, it admitted of no palliation, for his circumstances had been such as to leave him under no temptation to commit so serious an offence. Confinement for so short a time as one week could by no one be deemed an adequate punishment for such a case. It was a question with him whether the individual ought not to be prosecuted for perjury. This was a point, however, which could not be decided until the evidence had been printed.

Sir W. Heathcote,

as another member of the committee, begged to state, that the false evidence had consisted in direct contradiction, upon a long series of questions, most deliberately answered; and the offence had been aggravated by the petition presented.

Mr. Labouchere

placed confidence in the declarations of the hon. Gentlemen who had been on the committee: who had had better opportunities of forming a just decision as to the nature of the evidence given before them than could any other members possess.

Mr. Ckilders

confirmed the statements made by other members of the committee.

Sir R. Peel

concurred in relying on the declarations of the hon. Members who had been on the committee-who had joined in characterising this person's evidence as wilfully false. Though the evidence ought to be printed, yet other hon. Members would, even then, be unable to arrive at so just a conclusion as were those hon. Members who had been on the committee. As to this person's being respectable in station, that instead of an excuse or mitigation, was a great aggravation of the crime.

Mr. O'Connell

agreed entirely with the right hon. Baronet. There was only one conceivable supposition in this man's favour,▀×that as he had declared on one day a long series of facts to be false, which he had just a day or two before declared to be true, there must be some affection of his intellect, and that positive fatuity, if not something worse, had been the cause of his conduct. However, the partisanship of electioneering was too often quite reckless, and that might have been the case here. As to liberating him, it was quite out of the question, of course; but he could not remain for ever in custody; and the best course would be to print the evidence.

Mr. T. Duncombe

emphatically disclaimed the idea that the respectable situation in life of this individual at all mitigated-on the contrary, it aggravated his offence. But perhaps the hon. and learned Solicitor-general, to whom the evidence had been submitted, would state whether it was sufficient to ground an indictment for perjury on; seeing that, if such were the case, the proper course would be, instead of keeping the man in custody, to prosecute him at once. He had brought forward the case solely at the instigation of the hon. Gentlemen who had declared their favourable opinion of the individual in question. Of course, in deference to the general feeling of the House, he should withdraw the motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Sir J. Y. Buller

moved that the minutes of proceedings and evidence taken before the Great Marlow Election Committee be laid before the House.

The Solicitor-General

said, the evidence had only just been delivered to him, and he had not had an opportunity of looking at it. But be begged it to be understood that the question was whether the allegations had been' material in the case; if not, no indictment for perjury could be maintained; yet, he need not say, evidence might, under such circumstances, be deserving, from its falsity, of the punishment of that House.

Motion agreed to.