HC Deb 06 May 1851 vol 116 cc637-55

said, that at that late hour, he should be as brief as possible in introducing the Motion of which he had given notice for leave to bring in a Bill for appointing a Commission to inquire into the proceedings at the recent St. Albans Election. What he had to do was to satisfy the House that there was good ground for inquiry, and that the course he proposed was the best that could he adopted. According to the evidence that was taken before the Committee, it appeared to him that the present case was analogous to the former cases of Sudbury and Great Yarmouth. In both of these cases extensive bribery was committed, and the mode in which it was conducted was similar to the present case. It appeared that when the candidate appeared in the town of Great Yarmouth, a house was taken in a convenient spot, which was entirely under the control of the Committee for conducting the election. To this house there were two accesses in two different streets, so that a person went in by a door in one street, and came out by a door in a different street. That was the case in the present instance also. An empty house was taken in a street, called Chatham-street, the exit being by an alley, which subsequently received the denomination of "Sovereign Alley," in allusion to what had taken place there. They had no proof of bribery in the present case, but they had proof that individual voters went into this house by one door; that they communicated with a person in a room in this house; that they promised their vote; and that they came out by a different door. It was proved, however, that these individuals went to public-houses and exhibited gold to the amount of four or five pounds. It was true that when before the Committee they swore most positively that they had not received money in that room; but considering that they also swore that they were not in possession of any money at all, and that it was afterwards distinctly proved by respectable testimony that they were, there could be little doubt in the minds of the Committee that those persons through some one, and in some place—the probability being that it was in this room—received money in return for a promise of their vote. Now, the person who sat in that room was a person of whom the House had heard a good deal, and who was named Edwards. That person volunteered his evidence, and was ready to be examined, but he was not examined. The three persons who were examined were persons who were stated to have been bribed by this man Edwards; but, whatever the impression of the Committee might be, there was no proof of actual bribery against any individual. He adverted to this point more particularly, because the Committee had been blamed for not having adjourned the inquiry. The Committee were certainly not disposed to pass by any legitimate opportunity of obtaining evidence; but it being quite clear that the petitioner's case was one of fishing for evidence, and that there was likely to be a groping in dark, they felt bound to pursue the course which they had done. If the witnesses had been examined, they would no doubt have declined to give answers which might have exposed them to penal consequences. Still there could be no doubt whatever, looking at the manner in which the witnesses gave their evidence, and at the resemblance which the case bore to other cases in which bribery had been established, that the Committee was fully satisfied in concluding that bribery was practised. The general evidence was, he thought, particularly strong; and as his only chance of obtaining his Bill was the making out of a case from the evidence, he hoped the House would allow him to refer to it. This was the evidence of William Payne. Payne, in the course of his examination, had mentioned "Bell-metal" and "Electioneering money." He was asked— You speak about Bell-metal and electioneering money; is it a subject which is usually talked about, electioneering money?—We were all laugh- ing; they gave money the name of Bell-metal, in St. Albans; they do not call it silver or gold. What do you mean by election money?—I do not know what he meant; I do not know what he did mean by that. Is it a common term in St. Albans; have you ever heard of election money before?—I have heard talk of people having it; I was laughing and joking, and I said I had a good mind to put up for the borough of St. Albans myself, and I would if I had plenty of money; three or four of them promised me their votes then. What do you mean by election money?—I do not know what they mean by it; I was always saying that I knew no man could get in without money; we were laughing and joking together. Do you mean money paid by the candidates?—Yes, that is what we were laughing and talking about; I said 'I will give anybody 10l.,' and three or four of them said they would serve me. Do you mean to say that it is a matter of notoriety that this election money is prevalent in St. Albans?—That is what I have always been informed. On former occasions as well as this?—Yes; I have known a great many elections; I have been living there nearly sixteen years come July. Did you ever know an election at St. Albans, where there was not a talk of election money?— No, I never knew one that I remember. The candidate who came without it, I suppose, would not have been very well received?—Mr. Carden was received very well; I did not hear any great talk about his money; I do not know that he spent a shilling. Was election money ever called Bell-metal till this last election, when the candidate's name happened to be Bell?—No, I never heard it before. The next witness examined was Mr. Baily, respecting whom he would remark, that he was a person of great respectability, and upon whose evidence the Committee had every reason to place great reliance. He was asked— Did you hear any conversation there?—They were speaking about the election, about the Bell-metal. The observation was made, 'There is some of the Bell-metal going.' What did you understand by Bell-metal?—The money they had received from Mr. Bell's party. Received for what?—For their votes. Do you mean to say it is a common subject of notoriety that votes are bought in St. Albans?—Certainly it is. Are you acquainted with St. Albans?—Yes. How long have you been acquainted with St. Albans?—I have lived there since I was about four years old. Have you known other elections?—Yes. Has it been also a matter of notoriety at other elections, besides this?—It has also. Is there any common amount that is notorious as the price of a vote?—Five pounds was stated that night in the bar where this man Howard was, and it was generally understood by every one in the room that he had received 5l.; I can give you another instance. It is a notorious thing that money is given for votes in St. Albans?—It is. If the Committee will allow me I will state what one of the parties stated to me. Is 5l. the standard?—Five pounds was generally understood to be the standard for a vote then. Is it ever less?—When there is no money on the other side, it will go down as low as 2l. or 3l., and sometimes to 30s. It is a common and notorious fact that at this and former elections bribery has prevailed in the town?—Certainly it is; there is not a voter that can deny it. Such was the evidence of a respectable witness. It might appear that there was a paucity of evidence—only three or four witnesses at most being examined in whose testimony the Committee would have been warranted in placing full reliance. It must be recollected, however, that no facilities for inquiry were given to the Committee by either party. The petitioner had summoned about one hundred witnesses, but of these the great mass were produced, and consequently the Committee had no power of making out a general case. Still, he thought the evidence to which he had referred showed that there were ample grounds for further inquiry. There were other circumstances which, in dealing with this subject, the House should keep in view. He must ask the House to turn back to 1841, and to the proceedings which took place before a Committee which then sat. Then, as now, there had been a contested election at St. Albans, and the Earl of Listowel was the successful candidate. Edwards, who had figured so much in this case, had also considerable notoriety in 1841. In that case, too, general bribery was alleged; but when the Committee were on the point of obtaining conclusive evidence, the parties, who were only anxious for the seat came to a compromise, and the petition was withdrawn. The object of the Committee was thus frustrated, but they made a special report to the House, and asked leave to lay on the table the evidence which they had taken. Parties then ran high; and though there was a good deal of discussion no further inquiry took place. With regard to the question; whether there ought in this case to be an inquiry, he thought the House ought to be bound by the recommendation of the Committee, though objections might be urged against the species of inquiry which he proposed. With regard to the fourteen days that might have been allowed to intervene under what was termed Lord John Russell's Act, this difficulty at once presented itself. What chance had the Committee, constituted as it was, of arriving at the truth? There was no Bill of Indemnity, and of course any witness might have refused to criminate himself. The Committee looked for precedents, and the precedent which occurred to them was that of Sudbury. In that case, a Committee had strongly reported against the borough as guilty of bribery, and a Bill passed that House for its disfranchisement, but in the other House it was withdrawn. In the next Session, 1843, the case was again brought forward, but it broke down, and the Bill was again withdrawn. Afterwards, a joint Commission of both Houses was sent down to Sudbury, to examine witnesses previously indemnified; the Commissioners reported the existence of bribery; and upon that, a Bill of disfranchisement passed both Houses. That precedent, being perfectly satisfactory in its results, ought now to be followed. As regarded bribery, there could be but one opinion as to the necessity of checking it; and the interference of the House in this case might have that effect, at all events in St. Albans, where bribery had, unhappily, existed for a number of years.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That leave be given to bring in a Bill for appointing Commissioners to inquire into the existence of Bribery in the Borough of St. Albans.


rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice, which was to include the Falkirk District of Burghs in the proposed inquiry. He begged to state to the House that he represented a body of electors of Falkirk, whose petition he had presented, praying that in any inquiry into other places, the district of the Falkirk Burghs might be included. That petition stated that, on the day of polling, forty-one spirit shops were opened in the interest of the sitting Member (Mr. Baird); the consequence was, frightful scenes of debauchery and intoxication; and a riot was threatened, which rendered it necessary to call in the aid of the military. The petition, signed by four electors, had been withdrawn without their knowledge. If this had been done on account of the possible expense, that was an additional reason for entertaining the question now. He (Mr. Cobden) had received a letter from the Provost of Falkirk, expressing the general disappointment and surprise of the electors on the withdrawal of the petition, and stating that he had never witnessed such scenes of dissipation as took place at the last election. He (Mr. Cob- den) had no feeling of hostility towards either party engaged in that election. Both candidates were advocates of free trade, and there was not much difference in their politics. He had, therefore, no personal motive in bringing forward this question. The district comprised five burghs, which were thirty-three miles apart, situate in three different counties, totally different in their occupations and interests, and it was difficult to understand why they had ever been grouped together, Up to 1841, the character of these burghs, like that of most other Scotch burghs, had been unimpeachable in point of political morality. In 1841, when the brother of the sitting Member was the candidate, those malpractices had begun; but they had been generally confined to the burgh of Airdrie, which was mainly dependent on the very extensive iron works the property of the sitting Member and his brother. In 1846 Mr. Baird resigned his seat, and the Earl of Lincoln became a candidate. He was opposed by Mr. Wilson; and at that election the malpractices, which had been confined to Airdrie alone, extended to other of the burghs. In 1847, at the general election, the Earl of Lincoln stood again, and was opposed by Mr. Boyd, and then those scenes of dissipation and general corruption, which had marked Airdrie at the previous election, became almost as bad in Falkirk and Hamilton. Then came the late contest between Mr. Loch and Mr. Baird. A competent legal gentleman had been down to the burghs, one who was totally unconnected with them, who had never been in Scotland before, and he had taken down, from the lips of individuals there, statements corroborating those of the petition. Robert Binnie, in a deposition signed by himself, in the presence of the Provost of the burgh (he had no hesitation therefore in mentioning his name), stated— That he was a grocer and spirit dealer at Graham's Town; that he had always voted for the Liberals, and intended to do so at the last election; that on the Friday before the nomination, Mr. Russell, one of Mr. Baird's law agents, called upon him and asked him for his vote; he declined to promise, whereupon Mr. Russell hinted that he might change his mind. The same night a party of Mr. Baird's friends called at his house and went up stairs. Whilst they were there, several working people, non-electors, came into the bar. Mr. Maclaren, one of the party of Mr. Baird's friends, came down stairs of his own accord, and seeing the people there, desired witness to give them what they wanted. He gave them drink. Whilst he was doing so, Mr. Maclaren was continually looking in and out of the room, and said, 'Give them what they like; Mr. Baird is rich enough to pay for it.' Witness considered this a sufficient order, and continued to keep open house till the day of nomination (Tuesday). On the preceding Monday night there was a tremendous business doing. A number of people came and had supper in the back room; John Dick presided. They had broad and cheese, whisky, porter, lemonade, and vinegar cordial. They sat eating and drinking all the evening. They drank a good deal, and carried away a good deal. Mr. Maclaren and another were in at the time. Mr. Maclaren said, 'Well, Robert, you are getting on here famously; the steam is getting up; keep them alive. There is not a nicer party in the town than yours.' There were fifty or sixty persons there at the time, though the room would only seat twenty-five; but they were close packed, some sitting and some standing, and the kitchen also was full. Witness got them out before twelve o'clock; eleven was his usual hour of closing. Many of them were drunk, of course. The following morning was the nomination. People began to come for drink by six o'clock, and the place was quite mobbed by half-past six. They came for their 'morning,' [a term which hon. Members from Scotland would no doubt understand.] They had brandy, whisky, or anything they chose to ask for, the same as the night before. Several got drunk speedily, and he was obliged to get them away. Some were drunk by eight o'clock or half-past eight. Many had to be carried away. Witness gave two men a bottle of whisky to assist some of the drunken ones home, or to see them to a place of safety. Several boys, from ten to fourteen years of ago, were tipsy, and swearing in the street. He did not give them drink, but other people in the town did. Two foundry boys came and asked him to give them drink. There were no women drinking in his house; those who came there came to take their husbands home. He would only read one more extract from the evidence of a person named Waugh, a grocer and spirit dealer, in Graham's Town, a suburb of Falkirk. Waugh stated— That on the afternoon of Monday, before the nomination, Maclaren and M'Cowie ordered him to provide refreshments, for which he (Maclaren) would be responsible, for all who came. He was to give the people plenty to eat and drink, and not to allow fighting. Two hundred came and had whisky and brandy and cordials; in addition he missed five dozen bottles, which must have been taken away. They became rather riotous about ten o'clock, when he told them he would not give another mutchkin. He sent to Mr. Potter, but the latter told him to go on and let them drink. On the Tuesday before the poll, the people came again and demanded their 'mornings.' Maclaren came again on Wednesday, and witness asked him was he to let them have any move, when he said 'Oh yes!' and the people then had fourteen gallons of whisky. There were women and boys who were all very drunk. [A laugh]. Now, he begged hon. Gentlemen who laughed to attend to the evi- dence of respectable inhabitants of the burgh, who, much to their honour, had protested against such scenes. If their example was more frequently followed, they would not have many such political Gomorrahs as Sudbury. Dr. Hamilton, medical practitioner at Falkirk, deposed to having found two youths lying drunk in the road on the night preceding the election, in such a situation that they would have inevitably been run over had he not removed them to a place of safety. On raising them up he asked one how he came there, and he answered, "Oh, there's open house at Sandy Waugh's." They had another youth with them not quite so drunk, who assisted them home. The Rev. A. M'Farlane remembered coming home past the Carron foundry the night before the nomination, and found drunken men lying about in such a way as made him shudder at the amount of demoralisation. Gentlemen might ask why he brought forward these cases of the demoralisation of the working classes, seeing that they were non-voters. But he did it because he considered the case ten times worse than that of St. Albans. There a man was taken into a room and paid 5l. for his vote; but here a more demoniacal practice was adopted; for, it being necessary to secure the votes of some publicans, two hundred individuals were kept in a state of beastly intoxication to enable those men to earn the price of their vote. He would now read the evidence of a member of a temperance society. William Arnott stated— That he worked in Falkirk Iron Works, and that he had a son 12 years old, who returned home on Monday night in a state of almost insensibility from drunkenness; and his wife corroborated his testimony, saying she had picked the child up in the street." "Another woman deposed that she had two sons, one 12, the other 16, and both came home so drunk on Monday that they wore obliged to be put to bed. Cowan, a general shopkeeper, stated that he had a boy eight years old, who came home very much excited, and was found to have been drinking whisky. It appeared that some of his playfellows had induced him to go to Waugh's. He would repeat once for all that the mode adopted of corrupting the constituencies was by opening all the public-houses and allowing all comers to drink what they pleased of ardent spirits. He would not trouble the House with any statements about Hamilton, but state that, with regard to Airdrie, the burgh in which Mr. Baird lived, and which was mainly indebted for its increasing population to his im- mense iron works, it was worse than anything that could be charged against Falkirk. He would ask, was it not the duty of capitalists who employed large numbers of the working classes—whether it was not their duty to lead them into the paths of virtue and sobriety? But he was sorry to say that the wealth and enormous influence of that gentleman's family had been exercised for a very differnt purpose. He would mention but one case of bribery, although ten had been proved, in one of which the Provost was implicated, and in another the Inspector of Police. In Airdrie James Whitland stated— That having six votes in his family, he was offered 20l. to vote for Mr. Baird by one of that Gentleman's committee, who was not himself an elector, and added that in a place with 15,000 inhabitants, 41 public-houses were kept open, with free drink for all persons coming to the election. He would now read the evidence of two ministers of the gospel. The Rev. James M'Gowan, a minister of the Free Church at Airdrie, stated— That he came into the town between four and five o'clock on the evening of the day of election, and that on the road he witnessed the most awful scenes of debauchery, drunkenness, and rioting that it was ever his lot to behold. He scarcely met a single sober individual; numbers were lying on the side of the road in a state of beastly intoxication, and among them many boys and women. It was with considerable difficulty that he reached home, he was so much jostled about. No fair was ever half so bad. It was quite impossible the drunkenness could be exceeded in any of its manifestations. Many decent persons thought the town ought to be disfranchised, and many declined to register, because they felt the disgrace of being mixed up with such beastly election scenes. This was Mr. M'Growan's eivdence in effect. The Rev. Alexander Barr, a minister of the Established Church of Scotland, said— That the scenes at the last election at Airdrie were shocking. Idleness and habits of dissipation were encouraged, and trade was at a standstill. One of the members of his congregation had been prevented from attending divine service because of blows he had received in the riot. He (Mr. Cobden) held in his hand a list of 41 spirit shops which had been opened during the election, where parties were treated without charge; and he had also a list of the sums that were paid, or partly paid, to the landlords. One received 40l; another, 80l.; another, 90l.; another, 25l. on account; another, 280l.; another, 32l., and so on. Now these facts were matters of notoriety in the town. There might be a difficulty in identifying the parties who had ordered the houses to be kept open, but there were sufficient proofs to show that these transactions were done at the cost and under the cognisance of the hon. Member who sat in that House. There was a man there, not "the man in the moon"—but a man called "Goldy," or "the man with the bag," who had been paying some of these accounts, and he was strongly suspected to be a person of the name of Pollock, either a writer or a writer's clerk at Ayr. Now this was a point he wished a Commission to investigate. What he had stated of all these places he believed took place in a mitigated form at Linlithgow and elsewhere. The worst phases of the debauchery were exhibited at Airdrie, Hamilton, and Falkirk. And was he now to be met by the plea that there was something which precluded him from proceeding in this case? He called upon the House to deal with him as they had dealt with the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roeback) on a former occasion, as if it were a case without precedent, for there was no precedent for these abominable proceedings. The character of them was that of iniquity. It was by the accidental circumstance of his mentioning Falkirk on a former evening that he had brought upon himself an inundation of information from temperance societies and other parties—amongst them the non-electors, who had petitioned for the disfranchisement of the burgh; and having looked into the circumstances of the case, he had ventured to bring them under the consideration of the House. He asked them to consider whether the elections in this country were to be carried by such processes as these?—because, if so, mark the consequences! Who would sit in that House if the path to it were through some hundred gin houses, with a bill of 200l. or 300l. each? The election expenses of hon. Members had been estimated at from 5,000l to 15,000l. Would "the territorial aristocracy" of this country, as they were called, who lived on rents, and some of whom had little money to spend, sit there? No. It was the monied people, who had hard cash at their bankers, who alone would find entrance into that House? Was this a process that would conduce to the improvement of the character of the representation, or, rather, had they not better return to the old regime of pocket boroughs, and "hereditary claims," if it were to be continued? He would rather live under an oligarchy or a despotism than be governed by a majority of Members who had entered the House by such means. Was there not something due to the morality of the age? Was that House to be the only quarter where scenes like these could be heard of without emotion, and disgust, and a desire to put an end to them for the future? The temperance publications and the temperance societies had rung with horror at the recital of these deeds. He had read the declaration of ministers of the gospel speaking in detestation of them; and was this to be the only place where they wore to laugh and jeer at them, and treat them with contempt? If so, what other tribunal was he to resort to? Did they allow him to go elsewhere for a tribunal? No: they claimed sole and exclusive jurisdiction in these matters. Were the people to be allowed no appeal from the decision of that House? Was that House to claim to itself solely and exclusively the right to pronounce without appeal upon questions touching the purity of our elections? He would ask that House not to appeal to precedent for the purpose of eluding an inquiry into the case which he had brought under their notice. Let him have no excuse about technical difficulties standing in his way. All he asked for was inquiry into these proceedings. He did not ask them to unseat the hon. Member who now sat for the Falkirk burghs. He did not ask them to disfranchise those burghs. He merely asked the House not to pass unnoticed the transactions which he had brought before them. He asked them to include in their proposed inquiry into the proceedings at St. Albans the case of the Falkirk burghs, for he humbly opined that the latter case was characterised by transactions ten times more demoralising than any proceedings that had taken place in St. Albans. He begged to move, therefore, the Amendment of which he had given notice, as to including the case of the Falkirk burghs.

Amendment proposed— At the end of the Question to add the words 'and of bribery, treating, and corruption in the Falkirk district of burghs.'

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


I don't want to stifle the inquiry the hon. Gentleman asks for, nor do I wish to perpetuate the practices which he alleges took place at my election. All I can say is that I gave no sanction to persons to open public-houses, and I believe my agent did not do so either. If the House wishes to make an inquiry into the proceedings at the last election, I have no objection. With regard to the scenes of drunkenness, I have no doubt some of them took place. It is not an uncommon practice in these burghs, even when there is no election taking place, and that is partly acknowledged by one of the informants, when he said it was as bad as a fair. It is not to be wondered at there should be a great scene of drunkenness at the election, for there is a population about Airdrie that earn wages to the amount of about 10,000l. a week; and when the principal persons of these establishments are engaged in an election, it is but natural that these men should come to Airdrie during the election, and they naturally become excited along with the other parties in the town, and having plenty of money in their pockets make themselves merry. The course of proceeding taken in this case is certainly very irregular, and such as the House cannot adopt. Still, if the House wish for inquiry into this case, I hope they will go about it in a proper way, and, as I said before, I will not object to it. The House is aware that a petition was lodged against my return; and the local agents of the petitioner went through the whole of the burghs, and took all the cases they could find; but after a precognition of two or three weeks they found they could not substantiate one single allegation against me, and therefore the petition was withdrawn. I should think that if local agents could not make out a case against me, it is not likely that an agent from London could do so.


trusted that there was no one in that House who had not listened with deep regret, and he trusted, with disgust, to the sad and painful proceedings which had been brought under their notice by the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire (Mr. Cobden). No man could picture to himself such scenes of debauchery as that hon. Gentleman had described, without feelings of the deepest regret. But, although in common with many other hon. Members, he thought it would be highly desirable, under certain circumstances, that inquiry should be made into such proceedings as the hon. Gentleman had described, yet he hoped the hon. Gentleman would give him leave to suggest that the case of the Falkirk burghs ought not to be mixed up with that of St. Albans. He was quite satis- fied that the hon. Gentleman was as anxious as any hon. Member could be, not to throw any impediment or any chance of impediment in the way of inquiry into the case of St. Albans. The hon. Gentleman would not forget that the Bill which his (the Attorney General's) Friend proposed to introduce, would have to go through the ordeal of another place, and they must take care that the Bill should not be encumbered, or its success endangered, by making it comprehend the case of the Falkirk burghs. The two cases stood upon entirely different grounds. They had, in the one case, the Report of a Committee, a Report founded upon evidence taken on oath. They had the Chairman of that Committee proposing a Bill at the instance and by the desire of the Committee over which he presided. Now, a Bill so introduced, if it should pass that House, would, he (the Attorney General) trusted, be sure of success in the other branch of the Legislature. But the case which the hon. Member for the West Riding had presented, although it might be one deeply deserving inquiry on the part of that House, stood upon an entirely different footing, for it rested entirely on statements to which the hon. Gentleman could not pledge himself of his own personal knowledge. These statements were not evidence taken upon oath, and, although, to a great extent, they might be true, yet there was a possibility of their being exaggerated, because it must not be lost sight of, that a petition had been presented, as had been stated by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Baird), with regard to the Falkirk burghs, after the last election, and that that petition was withdrawn. By the 5th and 6th Vic. cap. 102 (the Act of 1842), if the general bribery and corruption complained of did in fact exist, a petition might have been presented for the purpose of instituting an inquiry into the state of the burgh with reference to corruption at the last election, and a Commission might have been issued upon the result. The cases, then, of St. Albans and of the Falkirk burghs stood upon entirely different grounds, and he would, therefore, suggest to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cobden) that as it was unusual to engraft as it were a rider upon the proposition of an hon. Member in a case like this, that he should withdraw his Amendment, and, if he so pleased, bring it forward as a substantive and independent Motion.


thought that he might be permitted to recall to the recollection of the House some remarkable circumstances which he had on a former occasion brought before that House. There had been six instances, after a general election, of what he had ascertained to be corrupt compromises. He had brought the circumstances on his own personal statement before the House, and the late Sir Robert Peel granted him the Committee he asked for. Not satisfied with that, they had passed a Bill enabling parties to give evidence. He had mentioned six cases, and the late Mr. Charles Buller mentioned another—Bridport; and he asked the House to engraft Bridport on his (Mr. Roebuck's) Motion, and the House agreed to do so, and then all these cases were brought before the Committee of which he was Chairman. Where, then, was the difference between the two cases? The hon. and learned Attorney General said that the one case was established on oath. But what had been done with him (Mr. Roebuck) referred only to his own personal statement. It rested on that alone. And now what occurred on the present occasion? The hon. Member for the Falkirk district of burghs (Mr. Baird) demanded inquiry. Who, then, were the objecting parties? Not the hon. Gentlemen opposite. Then there was the hon. Member branded by the statement of the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire. [Cries of "No, no!"] Let hon. Gentlemen wait until he finished. Thus was the hon. Member branded if he did not get the opportunity which he asked for. Who then stood between the hon. Member and his exculpation? Surely the hon. and learned Attorney General would not stand between him and it. What then prevented the wish of the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire being acceded to, and thus helping the hon. Member for the Falkirk district of burghs to a vindication?—not because he needed it. Oh, no! but because he was accused. To be accused was one thing; to be guilty was another; but the hon. Member was accused, and no doubt he would be considered guilty if he were not allowed to defend himself. For what would the world say? Why, that friends who well understood the position in which he stood, when he pretended to be ready to exculpate himself, walked in and with their happy shield and most useful cloak covered him from the accusation which had been made against him. He asked was that a position to let the hon. Member occupy? He assumed that the hon. Member was—and he said this with all violence to himself—innocent. Yes, in such cases as those of Boston, and Aylesbury, and Falkirk, he did violence to himself in supposing that persons were not guilty when they were charged with a knowledge of the practices of corruption. The hon. Member who had made the Motion had talked of bribery only; but corruption and treating must be included in the Motion. Would the hon. Gentleman say that one house, not to say forty-one houses, open for treating, could have been only open for purposes of patriotism? Some one with a purse ready to pay those men who presided over houses where treating of men, women, and children took place, must have been there, sent there by some one. It was a disgrace to that House to sit there, and the country would repudiate them, if they dealt with great cases of immorality, and allowed guilty parties to ride off on a mere technicality raised by the hon. and learned Attorney General. The technical objection which had been raised ought to be overruled, and the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Baird) ought to be afforded a full opportunity of exculpating himself. This he could not do under the proposed Bill, and therefore it was right for the House to provide the hon. Gentleman with the means of full exculpation. He (Mr. Roebuck) begged of the House, if they desired to have a moral influence in the country, not to interfere, but to let the hon. Gentleman have a fair trial, for the hon. Gentleman really was on his trial; and to let him clear himself, as he said he could, from the charges brought against him. Of all the cases he had ever brought under the notice of the House not one equalled in atrocity the present case, and he trusted it would be fully sifted by the House.


would be the very last person to object to any such inquiry as that contemplated by the Amendment of the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden); but he must object to the case of the Falkirk burghs being grafted on the Bill which he had submitted to the House that night. He believed that if he consented to the Amendment, the Bill would be placed in jeopardy, and in all probability defeated. Besides, there was the inconvenience of any one Commission having to inquire into two distinct cases at different and distant parts of the kingdom. He had no objection whatever that the petitions presented regarding the Falkirk election should be submitted to a Select Committee, and then legislation could follow if necessary.


had no wish to talk of difficulties in another place; the difficulties in that House were sufficient for him, to make him say that the Amendment of the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) was utterly inadmissible. If that hon. Member had desired to defeat the proposition of the hon. Member for St. Andrews (Mr. E. Ellice), he could not have taken a better course than that which be had adopted. The precedent which had been referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), was not at all to the purpose. And observe what was the consequence of the course taken by that hon. and learned Member in the six cases to which be had referred. An Act of Parliament was expressly passed, which provided for the specific case of an election petition being withdrawn previous to its trial. If the hon. and learned Gentleman did not think that Act sufficiently stringent to meet his views, why did he not say so? Why subject his fellow Members of that House to the tyranny of these occasional interpositions? That Bill provided that if there were any suspicion of collusion, by means whereof a petition which had been presented against the return of any Member was withdrawn previous to trial, any person might prefer another petition against such return.


said, that was not the Bill to which he had referred. That was Lord John Russell's Bill, with which he (Mr. Roebuck) had nothing to do.


was referring to the remedy which the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), who at the time of proposing it, was not a Member of the Government, had suggested for meeting such a case as that of the Falkirk burghs. The hon. and learned Member for Sheffield ought to have adopted that remedy, and not have come upon hon. Members with his ex post facto laws, which he (Mr. Bankes) would assert was tyranny and injustice. There was a petition preferred in the case of the Falkirk election, and there appeared on the journals of the House a letter written by Mr. Coppock, the agent of the petitioner, to the Speaker of the House of Commons, giving notice that it was not intended to proceed with the said petition. That letter was published in every newspaper the next morning, and the persons who now complained of malpractices in the Falkirk burghs might have presented a fresh petition if they had thought they had any case to go upon.


They did so.


But not at the proper time. If the hon. Member chose to keep the petition in his pocket till the time had lapsed, it was his own fault.


said, that the petition was not in his possession twenty-four hours before he presented it.


said, that it was not an election petition, but one praying for inquiry.


Then it should form the subject of a substantive Motion. As to the question before the House, he would not oppose the introduction of the Bill, since it was founded on the unanimous recommendation of a Select Committee; but he would propose that the Commission should he framed in exact accordance with Lord John Russell's Bill. It was necessary to vindicate the authority of the House, and he hoped that the inquiry would be a searching one.


was of opinion that the hon. Member for the West Riding should withdraw his Amendment, and allow the Motion to be proceeded with. He also thought that the noble Lord at the head of the Government ought to imitate the conduct of the late Sir Robert Peel on a similar occasion, and give the sanction of the Government to the proposed inquiry.


wished to give his testimony to the esteem in which the hon. Member for Falkirk burghs (Mr. Baird) and his family were held in the town of Airdrie. No men in Great Britain behaved with greater kindness to their workpeople than they. In addition to that, they bad built churches and made great exertions to promote education among the humbler classes in the town. An endeavour was made to get up a petition against the sitting Member for the Falkirk burghs; but that petition fell to the ground, for want of evidence, on the last day on which it could be presented to the House. The parties who promoted that petition were active partisans at the election against the sitting Member.


said, as to the Motion of his hon. Friend (Mr. E. Ellice), which was for the introduction of a Bill for the appointment of a Commission with regard to St. Albans, founded on the report of an Election Committee, that they had reason to believe that extensive bribery prevailed at the last election for the borough, he could not conceive a more legitimate ground for that measure than that which had been stated by his hon. Friend. Therefore he should have no hesitation in giving his vote in favour of the introduction of such a Bill. The hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire had brought another case forward, and he should be certainly very far from saying that there ought not to be some inquiry with regard to the case, because he thought that so far as notoriety and scandal went, it was a case that ought not to be passed over by the House when brought before it by a Member of the House. But he could not agree that the two cases should be embraced in the same Commission. He thought that they stood upon perfectly distinct grounds, the one case resting on the Report of a Select Committee, and the other resting at present on a petition presented to that House, What was the course to be be taken by the hon. Member for the West Riding he was not prepared to say at present, but he was prepared to say that the two cases ought not to be mixed together, and that his hon. Friend (Mr. E. Ellice) ought to be allowed to introduce his Bill without this Amendment.


felt he should forfeit the confidence which had been placed in him by his constituents if he permitted to go unnoticed the wanton and unfounded attack which had boon brought against him by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. At the recent election for Boston, there was no music, or anything to occasion the slightest excitement, or to warrant the statement which had been made by the hon. and learned Member.


said, there was no family in the three kingdoms which had done more to promote the welfare and comfort of its dependants than the family to which the hon. Member for the Falkirk district of burghs (Mr. Baird) belonged. He had endowed churches for the accommodation of the people, and built schools for the religious education of the children, and there was no family in the kingdom more remarkable for charity or patriotic feeling.


begged to express his thanks to the hon. Member for the West Riding of Yorkshire, for the exposé he had made to the House with respect to the election for the Falkirk burghs.


said, he was in the hands of the House. It had been suggested that he should make a separate Motion to the House for a Committee to inquire into the Falkirk election. He thought the example of the hon. Member for St. Andrews (Mr. E. Ellice) would not encourage any other hon. Member to undertake a Select Committee. But as this matter was now before the House and the country, he thought it was the duty of the Government to say what ought to be done in this case; and he ventured to suggest that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate of Scotland would be a proper person to conduct an inquiry into the merits of the case. He would, however, withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to; Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Edward Ellice and Mr. Henry Stuart.

The House adjourned at a quarter before Two o'clock.