HC Deb 29 April 1842 vol 62 cc1317-23

On the motion of Sir J. Y. Buller,

Richard Gibbons was called to the Bar of the House, to be reprimanded by the Speaker and discharged.

The Speaker,

addressing the prisoner, said,— Richard Gibbons, the Select Committee appointed to try and determine the merits of the Great Marlow Election Petition, have reported that you gave false evidence before them. This is a very serious and grave offence. It appears that you were not suddenly or accidentally betrayed into this deviation from the truth, but that you deliberately, and whilst upon your oath, gave evidence before the committee, which on a subsequent occasion you contradicted in the most positive terms. It is very painful to see a person who has hitherto maintained a respectable character, and who has enjoyed the confidence of a considerable body of his fellow townsmen, placed in that disgraceful position which you now occupy. To a mind any way alive to a sense of honour, that disgrace must be in itself the severest punishment. The House, therefore, considering the imprisonment which you have suffered, considering, also, the deep regret which you have expressed in your Petition for your misconduct, and willing to hope that justice in your case has at least been satisfied, and that if it now release you from further confinement, its lenity will not be misconstrued, but that others will be taught by your example, that it is prepared to visit offences of this description with the utmost severity, and that it is determined at all times and under all circumstances to vindicate those privileges which you have so shamelessly violated. I am now to acquaint you that you are discharged, upon payment of your fees.

The prisoner bowed and retired.

Sir R. Peel

Mr. Speaker, I move the words you have just spoken be entered upon the Journals of the House.

Mr. T. Duncombe

had not the slightest objection that the words uttered by the Speaker should be entered on the Journals of the House; but of all the severe reprimands he had ever heard delivered to any individual at the bar of the House, he must say that this was the most severe. He felt to a certain extent that he was not compelled to resist the motion of the right hon. Baronet. But it was necessary in vindication of a petition which he submitted to the House about a fortnight ago, when he stated that he believed, as he still did believe, that the individual who had just left the bar of the House, instead of having most shamelessly stated that which was untrue, was not guilty of that offence which was attributed to him. Yes, he believed—and he was not alone, there were others with him—that Mr. Gibbons had not wilfully perjured himself before the committee. Had he done so, the punishment he had undergone would not be sufficient. If the individual had given false evidence before a committee of that House, it was not the duty of the House, after three week's imprisonment, to imprison him further, but to instruct the law officers of the Crown to indict him for perjury. He had not had the chance which had been given to other persons. What had happened with regard to Wren. He was called before the House because he refused to give evidence before the Southampton election committee. He was asked— Do you intend to persist in refusing to give the evidence required of you by the committee?" (His answer was)—" Yes, I do, because I believe it would criminate myself; but if it is the desire of the House, I will bow to its decision, and give the evidence. What happened on the following day? Another individual, a Member of that House, Mr. Fleming, was called upon by the Speaker, and informed that a report had been received from the committee that he had refused to give evidence required from him. But he did not tell either the committee or that House that he would criminate himself by giving the evidence. When asked by the Speaker why he refused to answer the question which had been put to him, he stood up in his place, and said he could not, as a man of honour and a Gentleman, give the answer. Had the same chance been given to the last witness? Did they mean to act as judges, witnesses, prosecutors, and jury. He had heard hon. Gentlemen talking about the liberty of the subject the other night. Would they stand up for a roan who had made away with documents which he ought to have produced, and pronounce this person guilty of perjury? That had been very properly called the liberty of corruption. There were hon. Gentlemen in that House who well knew the character of Mr. Gibbons, and who, as well as he, believed him to be as incapable of giving false testimony as any Gentleman in that House. Let any one look at the printed evidence, and point out, if he could, where the witness could be convicted of perjury. The printed evidence only made confusion worse confounded. The public would read it and judge of it; and though they might discover, that the witness contradicted himself, they would not find anything to prove that he had committed perjury. Mr. Gibbons had gone from the bar of the House with a reprimand, but he was not proved to be guilty; he was confounded by counsel, that was all, and had no motive whatever for misleading the committee. But he had been sent to Newgate without having the opportunity to say one word of extenuation, or even explanation. Had he been tried by a jury, however, he would have been most honourably acquitted of the charge of perjury. He believed that in the estimation of all who knew him, including Members of that House, and persons connected with Members of that House, Mr. Gibbons would leave that bar without a stain upon his character.

Sir R. Peel

Sir, 1 have heard with great regret the observations which have been made by the hon. Gentleman upon the occasion of a reprimand delivered by the Speaker of this House. Of the particulars of the case I know nothing, and can say nothing; but in conformity with the usual practice of the House upon similar occasions, I have moved that the reprimand just delivered by the Speaker be entered on the journals of the House; and Sir, permit me to say that you could not have discharged your duty without delivering that reprimand. I find this entry upon the journals of the House:— Great Marlow Election,—Sir John Yarde Buller reported from the select committee appointed to try and determine the matter of the petition of A. Higginson and others, complaining of an undue election and return for the borough of Great Marlow, that they had directed him to report the following resolutions:— 1. That in the opinion of this committee, Richard Gibbons has been guilty of wilfully giving false evidence in his examination before them. 2. That the chairman do, by warrant under his hand., commit the said Richard Gibbons to the custody af the Serjeant-at-Arms to await the pleasure of the House.

Ordered, That the said Richard Gibbons, be for his said offence committed to her Majesty's gaol of Newgate, till this House make further order in his case; and that Mr. Speaker do issue his warrant accordingly.

That was the order made by the House of Commons, and that was the report of the select committee. Then a motion was made to-day to this effect:—

Ordered, That Richard Gibbons, now a prisoner in her Majesty's gaol of Newgate, under an order of the House, be forthwith brought to the Bar of this House, and that the Speaker do issue his warrant accordingly.


(And this again was an act of the House of Commons.) That the said Richard Gibbons be reprimanded by the Speaker and discharged.

The Speaker, therefore, of the House of Commons, acted merely ministerially, in pursuance of the order of the House of Commons. If he had acted otherwise he would have neglected his duty; and I must think that he discharged that duty in the most fit and becoming manner, and that the journals of this House will sustain the high character he has acquired in the execution of his public duty. I do not complain of the hon. Gentleman for dissenting from the resolution of the committee of which he was a member; but what I regret is that he should have made any remarks upon a reprimand delivered by the chief Officer of this House; when the neglect to deliver the reprimand would have been a violation of the duty he is bound to discharge.

Mr. Jervis

said, he merely rose to deprecate discussions of this kind. If it were true, and he thought that would appear from the evidence, that the individual gave false evidence in his (Mr. Jervis's) opinion no censure could be too severe. He did think this was a very ill—judged objection.

Sir J. Y. Buller

said, that he thought it would appear from the evidence that the committee had not acted rashly in this case.

Mr. T. Duncombe

said, if he had uttered a single word which could give the slightest pain to the Speaker, he was extremely sorry for it. The party whose conduct he intended to impugn, was the House itself, in reference to this subject. He contended that the individual who had just left the Bar had not been fairly treated.["Question."]

The Speaker

stated, that the hon. Gentleman must confine himself strictly to an explanation.

Mr. Duncombe

had said, that he did not intend to impugn the conduct of the Speaker who had acted in obedience to the order of the House, and could not do otherwise. It was the conduct of the House that he wished to blame; and when the House ordered this reprimand to be entered on the journals of the House, then was the time to make his observations. He had not had the opportunity. Now could anything be more unjust than this? He would sit down and leave the country to judge of the question.

Reprimand to be inserted in the journals.