HC Deb 22 March 1842 vol 61 cc1032-4

John Ashworth having been brought to the bar attending the House according to order,

The Speaker

addressed him as follows: —" John Ashworth, the House has been informed by the report of a select committee appointed to try and determine the merits of the petitions complaining of an undue election and return for the borough of Clitheroe, that you on Friday last interrupted their proceedings, and attempted to influence a witness under examination; have you anything to say in extenuation of your conduct?"

John Ashworth

I have nothing to say but that I am very sorry for what has happened.

No hon. Member desiring to put any question, he was ordered to withdraw.

Sir R. Inglis

as a Member of the committee, moved, that he be now discharged.

Lord G. Somerset

said, that in his opinion, previous to the discharge of the prisoner, some notice should be taken of his conduct. He thought he (the prisoner) should be discharged after reprimand.

Admiral Dundas

thought, that as the person had already expressed contrition for his offence, it would be better to discharge him forthwith than to take up the valuable time of the public by making any more ado about the matter.

Sir R. Peel:

I am but an imperfect judge of the nature of the offence which has been committed, seeing that the first I heard of it were the observations addressed from the chair to the prisoner at the bar. It appears that this person did interrupt a judicial committee of this House so as to warrant his committal to the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. I should be the last to press hardly in such a case, but still I think that the individual should not escape without some reprimand. I am always inclined to lean on the side of leniency; but really, if this person has committed an offence which has required his committal to the Sergeant-at-Arms, I think the slightest punishment he can expect is a reprimand from the Speaker.

Sir G. Grey

thought, that this was not a case which could be completely passed over; but as the party had appeared at the Bar, and expressed his deep regret, he (Sir G. Grey) thought that a slight reprimand would be sufficient.

Sir R. Inglis

had thought that the expression of his contrition was sufficient to satisfy the usage of the House.

Lord G. Somerset

really thought that it was hardly worth while to bring the man to the bar at all, if they now discharged him without a reprimand.

The Speaker

then put an amendment, That John Ashworth be called back, and reprimanded by the Speaker.

Mr. Labouchere

said, he thought it would be trifling with the House, first to call an offending person to the Bar, and afterwards to dismiss him without some expression of opinion, at the same time he thought that a reprimand was too serious a punishment, and that a simple admonition from the Speaker would be sufficient.

Mr. Hardy

observed, that the circumstance arose during the examination of a very reluctant witness, who was looking round the room in order to take a hint from some parties, when the person at the bar raised his head from the table and said, Don't answer any questions," which caused the greatest confusion in the committee.

Mr. Cardwell,

the new Member for Clitheroe observed, that being politically opposed by the person who had been placed at the bar, he was the last person in that House who could be expected to and forward as his advocate. At the same time he hoped he might be allowed to recommend him to the commiseration of the House. Being a man without education and dependent upon his own exertions for daily bread, he had already perhaps suffered sufficient for the offence he had committed.

It was agreed that John Ashworth should be "admonished," instead of "reprimanded" by the Speaker, and discharged.

Having been again placed at the Bar,

The Speaker

addressed him as follows: —"John Ashworth, any interruption of the proceedings of this House, or of any of the committees of this House, can only be regarded as a contempt of its authority, and your offence is much aggravated by the circumstances under which it took place. By improperly interfering with the testimony of a witness under examination, you did your utmost to obstruct the discovery of truth, and defeat the ends of justice. Such conduct cannot be allowed to pass entirely without censure; but the House, always anxious to act with lenity, and taking into its consideration the contrition you have expressed, and believing that your offence was unpremeditated, has directed me to admonish you as to your future conduct; and I trust that this admonition will be a warning to others that this House will not deal so leniently with an offence of this description, if repeated by any other individual. You are now discharged from further attendance upon this House."

On the motion of Sir R. Peel, the admonition was ordered to be entered on the journals of the House.