HC Deb 18 August 1835 vol 30 cc649-55

The House went into Committee on the Public Institutions Bill.

Mr. Tooke

thought the House would stultify itself if it passed this Bill through the present stage with the Clause relative to the compulsory rate. The hon. Member moved that the Clause be omitted.

Mr. Warburton

thought that the House ought to confine its attention to those measures that were really intended to be passed in the course of the present Session. It was evident the present measure could not be passed during the Session.

Mr. Buckingham

trusted that the House would pass the Bill with as much rapidity as possible.

Mr. Wyse

was in favour of such a power being given to Municipal bodies, but as the Bill relative to those Corporate bodies had not yet passed, it was absolutely necessary that the hon. Member should introduce some machinery, and the only question was, whether that machinery was good or not. He thought the objection to that machinery was not well founded, as it provided that at least two-thirds of the rate-payers should be in favour of that measure, and as the assessment was limited to sixpence in the pound, it was quite obvious that this system could not be open to the same objections as others which would tend to impose heavy burdens upon the people. It was absurd to suppose that the rate-payers of populous towns would be so indifferent to their own interests as not to attend the public meetings, and object to any improper or extravagant proposition. Public opinion, the Press, and the conversation of the inhabitants, one with another, would operate as checks upon any lavish or extravagant expenditure. He should certainly give his decided support to the Bill.

Lord John Russell

said, that if the Bill were pressed to a third reading, he should certainly be compelled to oppose it. He did not think that the compulsory establishment of public libraries, or other such institutions under the system proposed, would have the good effect contemplated by the hon. Member. The question of public education was a really national one, and he had always been of' opinion that, as a principle, public education should be made a matter of public charge. Those, however, who were connected with the conduct of public education in this country, stated, and certainly with much force, that so long as it was conducted by voluntary societies and committees, bodies which took the greatest interest in the promotion of the subject, it would thrive; but if the thing were made a matter of public charge, the people contributing to the charge would of course have a right to elect the governing bodies, and the probability was, that the majority of such electors would be altogether indifferent on the subject. What was thus stated with great force in reference to actual education, might be applied with ten-fold force to the establishment of public institutions and public walks. At present in almost every town might be seen splendid establishments of this kind erected by voluntary contributions at the cost of many thousands of pounds, and managed by societies or committees, who all felt a deep interest in the success of their respective institutions. Now if a compulsory tax were laid down for the maintenance of these establishments, he (Lord J. Russell) much feared that they would be material sufferers from the change, both from the objection to the taxes, and the probable indifference of most of the parties who would be intrusted with the management of them. These were the reasons which induced him—more particularly at this late period of the Session, when so many Members had formed themselves into a Committee of Recreation—to object to the measure; and if any attempt were made to press its third reading, he should most certainly oppose it.

Sir John C. Hobhouse

would be inclined to agree with those hon. Members who were for throwing out the Bill altogether. He had no idea that the Bill would have passed the second reading, and so far as he was individually concerned he had made up his mind to give it the most decided opposition. Was not legislation upon such matters as the following most absurd. He would read only the side head:—"Objects to be secured by public walks and public halls: fires to be lighted, and chairs to be provided for social meetings." The idea of providing tables, chairs, &c, for the use of the public hall was absurd as a piece of legislation. The hon. Member perhaps meant well, but it did not shew as much discrimination as he should expect from the maturity of the hon. Member's judgment. He should most decidedly oppose the Bill.

Mr. Warburton

objected also to the principle of the Bill. He was afraid, if compulsory taxation were resorted to, it would make instruction unpopular among the people. The proposed institutions bore the same respect to scientific institutions as the Established Church bore to other religious establishments.

Mr. William Smith O'Brien

was in favour of the measure, and wished to see the Continental system introduced into England. He hoped that hereafter, not only with reference to that institution, but to all others of a similar kind, they would encourage the principle of local assess- ment, for the purpose of erecting establishments of this kind. He would give to the poorer classes of the community those opportunities of rational and intellectual enjoyment, which were now denied them; and thinking that this Bill would in some measure have such an effect, he would support it.

Mr. Buckingham

The British Museum was supported by a compulsory assessment, levied on the country, and so was the National Gallery. The majority had to decide, and the minority were bound to assent to the agreement. But this Bill was not compulsory,—fifty rate-payers must first sign the requisition before a meeting could be held, and when that meeting was held two-thirds of the ratepayers must give their assent, with the knowledge that they must themselves pay the rate. This Bill would have a strong tendency to raise the moral habits of the working classes. Many men after their working hours were desirous of indulging their social feelings in talking with their neighbours; this at present they could only do at the public-house, where they proceeded for this purpose, and not, as he believed, to drink. This Bill would provide places of recreation free from the temptation of strong drink. He hoped, therefore, that the House would permit the Bill to pass through Committee; and if, after it should be amended, the sense of the House should be decidedly against the Bill, it might be expressed on the third reading.

Mr. Ewart

had the greatest respect for this Bill, but he must confess that, in his opinion, its provisions would be better administered by the local Councils under the Municipal Bill. In the principle of the Bill he cordially agreed.

Mr. Pease

reminded the Committee that two-thirds of the rate-payers must be brought to the poll, and must express themselves willing to incur the rate. They were the best judges of the habits and morals of the community who were to be served by this Bill, and he, therefore, felt bound to advocate its principle. The stopping of foot paths and Enclosure Bills had deprived the lower classes of many rational amusements, and it was desirable, therefore, in every way possible, to open to them new sources of innocent and healthful amusement. The assessment under this Bill must be, to all intents and purposes, voluntary; and he knew that in many places the majority of the ratepayers would avail themselves of the opportunity presented by this Bill. The great object of legislation should be prevention, not punishment; they had gone to the extreme on the other side, it was time now to try prevention. He looked at this measure as one that would be essentially beneficial to the working classes, and he would, therefore, support it.

Mr. Tooke

would certainly take the sense of the House upon the Clause, unless upon the understanding that the Bill should not be passed. He would have done this earlier, but that the House was in such a state, that if he proceeded to a division, much public business would be impeded, and he certainly expected that this Bill would not be carried forward. He did not understand what was meant by saying that the rate was not compulsory. It was clearly as compulsory as any other rate or taxation in the district. The rate was to be agreed to, not by two-thirds of the rate-payers generally, but of those that attended at the meeting, which was a very different thing. He thought, also, there ought to be some limit, say 20l. or 30l.—some given amount under which persons should not berated; the money ought not to be levied on the humblest and the lowest classes. He had heard, with much regret, his hon. Friend say that he entertained any doubt about the passing of the Municipal Reform Bill. That Bill would certainly pass—and ultimately in a manner satisfactory to the country. He thought that the provisions of this Bill and its principle could be most beneficially carried into effect under the authority and the auspices of the Town Council under the Municipal Reform Bill. He entreated his hon. Friend to consider the inexpediency of pressing this Bill. Many of its provisions would depend in a great measure upon the provisions of the Bill now in progress through the other House. Some legislation would be thereby saved, and he hoped his hon. Friend would see the expediency under all circumstances, and considering the late period of the Session, of not proceeding further with the labour of this impossible Bill. He had no objection to allowing it to be amended in Committee, upon the understanding that it should not be pressed to the third reading. If the hon. Member conceded, he should be happy to suggest such alterations and amendments as had occurred to his mind upon a cursory perusal. If, however, the hon. Member insisted on dragging the Bill through the House, he would take the sense of the Committee upon this Clause, and—though he regretted he had not done so on an earlier day—upon the principle of the Bill.

Mr. Ruthven

was very averse to giving so much power to any individuals as was done by this Bill, and therefore he would oppose it. He thought the Bill one entirely for the rich, and not for the poor. Mechanics' Institutes were much more useful and convenient. Tea-gardens, &c, were not fitted for the habits of this people—they were more manly than the habits of the people of other countries, where the public gardens abounded.

Mr. Wakley

much regretted that such opposition was now offered to the measure; but under the circumstances, he hoped his hon. Friend would consent to withdraw the Bill for the present Session, lather than have it rejected, or subject the House to the odium of throwing out so beneficial a measure. So far from the House objecting to a compulsory tax for the purposes of public institutions of this description, they ought to promote their increase to the greatest possible extent. They were indispensably necessary as some set off against the multitudinous and enormous barracks, gaols, and workhouses, which in their splendour were a deep disgrace to the country. The promotion of such institutions as those now proposed, would have the effect of speedily putting an end to the necessity for the other description of establishments. No subject was more important than the diffusion of education. The voluntary system had been tried, and had failed: another must be adopted. For upwards of four hundred years had we been in possession of the glorious art of printing, yet what was the existing state of the public mind? He would illustrate what that public mind was, by an example or two which had lately come under his notice. He happened to be down in Devonshire at the last election for that county; what were the reasoning faculties of the farmers there, who were brought up to vote against the noble Lord (John Russell)? What were their alleged reasons for their opposition? "Augh," said they, "we woant ha' na Lard John Rissell! we woant ha' na reform! we woant ha' na Pooap!" He asked one of them, "Would not you prefer coming in an independent way to vote, and not being brought up in your landlord's train?" "Can't zay (said the man), I ginerally comes a horseback." He asked another farmer, "Would you not like to go to poll by way of the ballot, my friend?" Don't knaw, zir (said the farmer); I've a been always used to goo by way of Daalish." These, the hon. Member continued, were but specimens of the rest; and the long and the short of the matter was, that the public mind was in a state of the most melancholy darkness and mystification. It was, therefore, of the utmost national importance that the most speedy and effectual means should be adopted for putting an end to this almost universal ignorance. He hoped as the hon. Member for Truro persisted in his opposition, that his hon. Friend would withdraw the Bill.

Mr. Buckingham

would certainly not withdraw the Bill, to be made the scapegoat of the House. If they objected to the Bill, let them throw it out. He would certainly press his motion.

Sir E. Codrington

hoped the hon. Member would press it, to see who was against the Bill. Constant agitation upon the subject was the only way in which to secure success.

The Committee divided on the Clause: Ayes 20; Noes 36; Majority 16.

On the motion of Mr. Tooke, the Chairman was ordered to leave the Chair, and the House resumed.

List of the NOES.
Baring, F. T. Pelham, C.
Becket, Sir J. Perceval, Colonel
Blake, M. J. Phillipps, C. M.
Blamire, W. Poulter, J. S.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Rolfe, Sir R.
Clements, Viscount Ruthven, E. S.
Dillwyn, L. Ruthven, E.
Elphinstone, H. Russell, Lord J.
Ferguson, Sir R. Smith, R. V.
Fielden, John Somerset, Lord G.
Hobhouse, Sir J. C. Stanley, E. J.
Howick, Lord Steuart, R.
Lefevre, C. J. Stuart, Lord Dudley.
Lennox, Lord G. Twiss, H.
Mangles, J. Tynte, C. K.
Maule, Hon. F. Walker, C. A.
O'Ferrall, M. Williams, W. A.
O'Loghlen, M. TELLER.
Parker, J, Tooke, W.
List of the AYES
Baines, E. Bridgman, H.
Baldwin, Dr. Buckingham, J. S.
Boldero, Captain Codrington, Sir E.
Ewart, W. Thompson, Col.
Jephson, C. D. Tulk, C. A.
O'Brien, W.S. Wakley, T.
O'Connell, D. Walker, R.
Pease, J. Warburton, H.
Pechell, Captain Wilks, J.
Roche, W. TELLER.
Ronayne, D. Wyse, T.

Bill postponed sine die.

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