HC Deb 21 April 1842 vol 62 cc903-6
Mr. Wason

moved the Order of the Day for the consideration of the petition which he had presented on the previous night from Obadiah Barwick, who had been committed to Newgate for prevarication in giving evidence before the Ipswich Election Committee. The hon. Member stated, that for a considerable period, the petitioner, who was an innkeeper in Ipswich, had been in a very distressed state of mind from various circumstances, and latterly from the dangerous illness of his wife. It was entirely owing to that cause that he had appeared to prevaricate in his evidence; and he now prayed to be again examined before the committee, and that if his examination were satisfactory he might be discharged from custody. All that he now wished the House to do with regard to this petition was to refer it to the committee, so that this unfortunate man might be again examined, and be released if he deserved it.

Mr. Pakington

said, that being Chairman of the Ipswich Election Committee, it devolved upon him to state to the House what were the circumstances connected with the committal of the petitioner; but, before he did so, he trusted he might be allowed to allude to a circumstance which he should not have noticed had he not been called upon by other causes to address the House. What he alluded to was a letter signed by the hon. Member for Ipswich, which appeared in the Morning Chronicle of that day, and he merely referred to it for the purpose of stating his surprise that the hon. Gentleman, having spoken to him in the Library of the House, and induced him to carry on a brief conversation, should have published it in a morning paper without giving him the slightest notice of his intention to do so. He had only further to add, that as the letter purported to give the substance of that conversation, he denied the accuracy of that report. With regard to the petition of Mr. Lucas, the prayer of it was two fold:—first, he prayed to be heard again before the committee; and, secondly, that he might be discharged from custody, alleging as a reason the bad health of his wife, and other circumstances to which it was not necessary to allude. Now, he had consulted the committee upon the subject, and their unanimous opinion was, that they could not think, under the circumstances, of again examining the petitioner; and that, looking to the nature of the whole case, no value could be attached by either side to any evidence he might give. As to any general claims which the petitioner might have to be discharged, the majority of the committee who decided on his commitment said, that their opinion of him remained entirely unchanged. They had been placed in most difficult circumstances. The petitioners sought to prove their case by evidence in a very large degree consisting of partisans of the opposite interest. The consequence was, that they had had very reluctant testimony, and as to many of the witnesses who were examined, he was sorry to say that they had had such prevarication, such unwillingness to give evidence, and apparent perjury, that they most carefully cautioned them how they gave their evidence, and told them that if such evidence were persevered in, the committee would be obliged to resort to the exercise of the powers that were vested in them. Now, the petitioner had been guilty of prevarication, he was afraid he must say of perjury; and the committee considered that the case was worse from his comparatively increased respectability, and from his not being one of those unhappy men who were brought before the committee to give evidence as to their own corruption. They considered that when such a person as Mr. Lucas, a respectable innkeeper, not himself at all charged with having been corrupted, but distinctly charged with being cognizant of and aiding in the corruption of others, was found guilty of direct self-contradictions in certainly three, and he believed four instances, confirmed by the testimony of other witnesses, and when, as far as they could judge from the motives of other human beings, they could attribute it to nothing but intentional and wilful falsehood, they were bound to adopt the course they had taken. The opinion of the committee as to the nature of that evidence remained what it was, and they could not recommend to the House any merciful consideration of this case. But the petitioner had prayed for his discharge on different grounds—namely, the dangerous illness of his wife, and his mind having been greatly distressed by other causes. With respect to that point he was desired by the committee to state that they did not think it became them to interfere with what seemed to belong to the judgment and discretion of that House, and they left it therefore to the House exclusively to decide whether the circumstances were such as to give a just claim to their humanity. With respect to the jurisdiction of controverted elections now possessed by the House, he should be slow to recommend the House to part with it. Some hon. Members had already stated their opinion, that the present law had proved a failure; but, in his humble opinion, that judgment was premature; and as this was the first general election under the new law, no one could say, that the law had failed or succeeded until the present Session was over. Committees that were appointed to try election petitions were called upon to look with peculiar jealousy at the evidence adduced before them; there was great temptation to prevarication and falsehood, and the House of Commons were bound to exercise those powers which the law gave them for the punishment of such cases; and it was upon that principle the committee had acted in the present case.

Mr. Wason

said, that after the decided opinion the hon. Gentleman had expressed as being that of the committee, it was not his wish nor did he think it would be proper, to press this motion upon the attention of the House. The committee must, under all the circumstances, be the best judges whether this man ought to be examined before them again, and he, therefore, thought he should best consult the feelings of the House if he merely moved that the petition lie on the Table.

Original motion withdrawn. Mr. Lucas's and two other petitions on the same subject to be printed

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