HC Deb 02 April 1846 vol 85 cc468-9

then moved for leave to bring in— A Bill to amend an Act passed in the 39th year of the reign of George III., c. 79, relating to Corresponding Societies and the licensing of places for the purposes of Lecture and Reading. He believed there would be no objection to this Motion. According to the 15th Clause of the Act 39 George III., c. 79, which was commonly called the Corresponding Societies' Act, any person delivering a lecture on any subject in a room not duly licensed annually by the magistrates, and receiving money at the door, and any person paying for admission, was liable to a penalty of 20l. He would venture to say there was not a room in the metropolis, or in any part of the country, which was duly licensed for such purposes; and persons who lectured or attended lectures in them were consequently liable to proceedings for these penalties. A case occurred at Hull last year, where an information was laid against a bookseller under this clause, by some parties who entertained a feeling against him. In that case a lecture was given; money was taken at the doors; an information was laid; and the person proceeded against was convicted. The decision of the justices was questioned in the Court of Queen's Bench, on the ground that the magistrates had no jurisdiction; but that Court confirmed the conviction. There was not at this moment a mechanics' institute the conductors of which were not liable to proceedings under this Act. He had moved for a return of all rooms licensed for lectures in Middlesex and Surrey; that return had not been made, but he believed it would be "nil." Hon. Gentlemen were aware that Shaksperian readings took place at the Argyle Rooms, where money was paid at the doors; and, undoubtedly, the persons connected with those proceedings were open to information. He believed that, in consequence of the conviction at Hull, it had been in the contemplation of some common informers to lay informations by wholesale against the lecturers in all unlicensed rooms. In that event there would be no end to the penalties which would then be recovered, and the House would then have to interpose, as they had done with reference to the qui tam actions; and in another case with regard to a clause in this Bill, which required the name of the printer to be placed on the first and last pages of all publications. The object of this Bill was to relieve parties from these penalties; and he hoped it would receive the sanction of the House. He also proposed to amend the Second Clause of this Act, which operated with peculiar hardship on friendly societies established for charitable purposes, with reference to the correspondence between the officers of such societies. He might mention that he had seen addresses issued lately by what are called protection societies, in direct violation of this clause of the Act; and there could be no doubt that the writers of such addresses were liable to indictment.


said, he was not disposed to offer any opposition to the introduction of the Bill; but there might be great danger in removing the safeguards established by the Act. In assenting to its introduction, it must be understood that he did not pledge himself to support it in a future stage.

Leave given to bring in the Bill.