HC Deb 10 April 1850 vol 110 cc154-64

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, that with a view to obviate the objections made by several hon. Members on the second reading of the Bill, he proposed to make two important alterations in it. The first was, to limit the operation of the Bill to boroughs whose population exceeded 10,000; and the second was, to make it necessary for the town council of any borough, before determining to carry this Act into effect, to call a public meeting of ratepayers and to obtain the distinct consent of those present. He begged to state also, that in Warrington, Liverpool, and other places, a movement had already commenced in anticipation of the passing of this Bill, to form public libraries freely accessible to all the inhabitants.

COLONEL SIBTHORP moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill be committed that day six months. The amendments which were to be proposed did not at all alter his objections to the measure, which remained the same as on the second reading. He objected to give any town council power to levy rates for this purpose, whether the population over which they presided exceeded 10,000 or not. He had no hesitation in saying that the city which he represented did not desire any such measure as this; at least he had never heard of it if they did.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into a Committee," instead thereof.


seconded the Amendment.


granted that it was most desirable that the means of information should be supplied to the people; but he believed that whenever that want was strongly felt it would be met in a mode far less objectionable than the one proposed by the present Bill. He was quite certain that those who considered the present period as one in which they were justified in taxing the public for objects not of immediate necessity, bad totally miscalculated the feeling both of counties and boroughs. He defied any one to deny that the pressure upon the agricultural body was rapidly extending itself to the towns. This, then, was not the time for conferring new powers of taxation.


said, that the hon. Member for Dumfries, while he proposed by the Amendment of which he had given notice that the town council should obtain the consent of two-thirds of the ratepayers present at the public meeting called by them before carrying the Act into effect, did not provide that any particular number or proportion of the whole ratepayers should be present at such a meeting. He (Mr. Stanford) thought, too, that three days was too short a notice of such a meeting. There should be at least ten days' notice. He cordially concurred in the object of the Bill, but it ought to be carried out in a fair and honest spirit. There was another objection he had to state. The fifth clause provided that admission to such libraries and museums should be free of all charge; but it did not follow that admission would be perfectly free, since town councils might impose recommendation as a preliminary. He considered that means should be taken to secure adequate publicity for any meeting to carry out the measure, and further that in all cases the rector or vicar of the district should be ex officio a member of the council of management.


begged to remind the House that this was a permissive, not a compulsory measure.


objected to the Bill, as one which enabled the richer and more influential inhabitants of a community to tax the poorer inhabitants for their own special purposes. Nothing could be more tyrannical than to place in a municipal body the control over a library purchased without the consent, and perhaps against the will, of one-third of the inhabitants of the district, and not practically accessible even to the considerable proportion of those who paid for it. Another most objectionable feature of the Bill was, that it empowered a town council to mortgage, for the purpose of building a library, not only the separate rate authorised by the Act, but the borough rates generally.


said, that on a former occasion he had opposed the Bill, on the principle that it was unjust to tax the population of a district without their consent; but the Amendment now proposed to be inserted by his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries removed this objection, by providing that no rate should be imposed under the Act upon any borough without the consent of two-thirds of the ratepayers present at a public meeting convened for the purpose, it being further provided that the population of any borough to which the Act was extended must not be under 10,000. He was quite ready to support the measure so amended.


considered taxation most beneficial that tended to raise the character of the people; and, after all, the tax which this Bill permitted—for it was a permissive measure merely—was only one halfpenny in the pound. It was most incorrect to describe this as a Bill to enable the richer inhabitants of a borough to collect libraries for their own use at the expense of the poorer inhabitants. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge grounded his opposition to the Bill by misrepresenting every part of it. The Bill was entirely permissive, and no step could be taken under it without the consent of the ratepayers. The Bill did not authorise the purchase of books at all, but merely the erection of libraries in which to keep books that might be collected in a district by subscription or donation, for the general benefit. It was most shortsighted policy to object to taxation for any such purpose. Here were 2,000,000l. a-year paid for the punishment of crime, yet hon. Gentlemen objected to permitting communities to tax themselves a halfpenny in the pound for the prevention of crime. In his opinion, it was of little use to teach people to read unless you afterwards provided them with books, to which they might apply the faculty they had so acquired. It was well known that the large bulk of the labouring classes had not the means of buying books of their own; and, therefore, the next best thing was to collect in every town libraries for their free use. He was satisfied that expenditure upou this object would be productive not only of immense moral good, but of very material public economy, in the long run. It was a melancholy thing to find the members of the universities of learning taking a foremost position in this opposition to the spread of knowledge. Did those gentlemen and their constituents imagine that no one except themselves was to know anything?


objected to the measure, as one imposing fresh taxation upon the already overburdened agricultural interest. If the Bill proceeded, he should certainly demand the exemption of that interest from the liabilities it created. As to the town councils, he considered them, of all bodies, the least proper to be intrusted with such powers as those given by the measure.


said, he wished to put a question that appeared to him of considerable importance, in reference to the contemplated working of the measure. Supposing these libraries built and furnished with books, were the public in each district to be at liberty to take the books they wanted to read home with them, or were they to be obliged to read them at the library? He considered this a very material point, involving a very serious dilemma. If the books were to be lent out in considerable numbers, great inconvenience, he thought, must arise; and, on the other hand, if the public were not allowed to take the books they wanted home with them to read at their own firesides, but were compelled to read them in the library, he conceived the Bill would be of very little practical use, since it would be quite impossible to afford accommodation in the library for so large a population as that contemplated for each district, while to compel the population to go to the library to read the books they wanted would be altogether opposed to those domestic habits of the humbler classes to which we owed so much of the benefits of our social system.


said, he could reply to the question only in this way, that in Salford, where the library contained 6,000 volumes, it had been hitherto found impossible to lend the books out; but so soon as enough books should be collected it was desired to make it a lending library.


said, it was absurd to talk of the agricultural interest being injured by this Bill. The tax would be a general one, for the benefit of all classes alike. The object of the Bill was to enable the town council to provide buildings and places for the reception of books and works of art and science. There could be no question but that they would have presents enough sent in if the places for their reception were once provided.


said, there was another objection to this Bill, which he believed had not been alluded to, but which he thought of considerable weight. By agreeing to it the Legislature would show a disposition to regard in a more favourable light scientific institutions and mu- seums, than churches, hospitals, and other charitable institutions. If the hon. and learned Attorney General were present, he should like to have asked him whether in point of law this Bill did not go much farther than the application of rates to the mere construction of the fabric?


said, he understood that the Bill would not extend to Scotland; but unless words were introduced stating that point specifically, he should feel it his duty to oppose the further progress of the measure.


wished to know if the hon. Gentleman also intended to make the Bill extend to Ireland?


said, it was not intended that the Bill should extend to Scotland. With regard to Ireland, he believed many hon. Gentlemen connected with that country were anxious that Ireland should be included in its provisions; and if the majority of the Irish Members were in favour of the extension, he was quite willing to accede to the proposition. He regretted that no less than three of the Members for the Universities should have opposed the progress of a measure for the establishment of public libraries. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University was mistaken in supposing that the Bill would authorise town councils to mortgage the general rates for the purposes of the Act; the Bill only authorised them, according to his intention at least, to raise money upon the security of the particular rate, and he (Mr. Ewart) was quite ready to adopt any words more completely securing this provision. With regard also to what had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman, he denied that it was a measure for the peculiar advantage of the rich. On the contrary, it was far more the poor man's than the rich man's question; and in proof of this he might refer to the library at Salford, which was found to be frequented by the poor far more than by any other class.


considered that one-half of the objections against the Bill were not fairly put forward, while the other half did not apply. The objection of the hon. and learned Recorder seemed to rest solely on the ground that the people would have the opportunity, if this Bill passed, of learning many things which they did not now know, and of which he thought they should still remain ignorant. [Mr. LAW: I said nothing of the kind.] No; the hon. and learned Gentleman did not say so in so many words, but that was the inference to be drawn from his remarks; and the colleague of the hon. and learned Gentleman on the last occasion when this subject was under discussion, said that the people would by this Bill have the opportunity of going to these libraries and reading the newspapers—the Daily News, and other such pestilential publications. But the day had gone by for such narrow-minded exclusiveness. The objestion of the hon. Member for Devonshire was still more extraordinary. He (Mr. Bright) had never before heard that the town councils presided over large agricultural tracts of country. He could not say what might be the case in the hon. Gentleman's locality; but he knew something of Salford, Manchester, and other manufacturing towns, and he did not believe that in any one of them could a farmer be called on to contribute to the tax which would be raised under this Bill. In the small towns, where agriculture ran almost into the town itself, town councils did not exist, and the Bill would not apply. The hon. Member, therefore, need not be apprehensive that his constituents would be called upon to pay any rate under this Bill. But even if they were, he could not see on what just ground the landlords should seek to deprive the farmers of having access to a good supply of books and publications at a cheap rate. The hon. Gentleman reminded him of a story he had heard of a farmer in the hon. Gentleman's own county (Devonshire), who, on being told that he should read the newspapers, and ascertain the state of the markets, replied that his father when he died had left a large number of newspapers, and until he had read those he could not think of buying any more. The hon. Gentleman ought, if he considered what was most likely permanently to benefit the agricultural body, to encourage the dissemination of useful information amongst the farmers and labourers. But if it were true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that the agricultural constituencies had no interest in the Bill, then the hon. Gentleman's objections did not apply. He believed, in the boroughs generally, not only the town councils, but the majority of the ratepayers, were favourable to the measure, which was entirely permissive in its character. He was informed that in the State of New York there were hundreds of such libraries; and if they were desirable there, surely they were equally so here. He believed that great public advantage would result from the Bill, and therefore he gave it his cordial support.


, in explanation, complained that the hon. Member had misrepresented his sentiments altogether. He had on no occasion expressed the slightest disinclination to the communication of the fullest information to the public—his objection was simply against the wealthy inhabitants of these boroughs coming to Parliament for powers to tax the poor ratepayers to provide the funds for establishing these libraries, instead of coming forward and establishing them by subscriptions raised amongst themselves.


did not understand why, if this Bill were good for England, it was not equally good for Scotland, or why the inhabitants of Dumfries were not to have the opportunity of improving their minds as well as those of Sal-ford. The question of the principle of the measure having been decided on the second reading, he regretted that any opposition had been offered to going into Committee; but as it was, he should be compelled to vote in accordance with the view he had previously taken, believing with his hon. and learned Friend the Recorder that it would be far better to establish these libraries by means of private subscriptions than by a general rate.


begged to inform the hon. Member for Manchester that in many boroughs at least one half the municipal rates were paid by persons connected with the landed interest.


said, that the borough of Birmingham for nearly two miles on one side, and for more than two miles on the other, extended into agricultural districts, the farmers occupying which would have to bear their full proportion of the proposed tax. As to the United States, the libraries there, he believed, were not maintained by taxation, but mainly by private subscription.


said, that the libraries in the United States were supported by taxation and by voluntary contributions in equal proportions.


stated that he voted against the second reading of the Bill, because, in its then condition, he considered it involved a principle of compulsory taxation; but the Amendment now introduced by the hon. Member for Dumfries having entirely removed that objection, he should have great satisfaction in giving the present Motion for going into Committee his cordial support.


considered that the Bill would confer a most valuable boon upon the intelligent and studious among the middle and poorer classes. In forming public libraries for such persons, the great difficulty was to obtain secure places of deposit for the books, the firm possession of which could be guaranteed. He had known several instances in which persons among the labouring classes had accumulated a considerable number of volumes, amounting even to thousands, but those libraries were at last broken up for want of the firm and independent possession of a place in which they might be deposited. The difficulty of obtaining buildings for the establishment of libraries was a serious one to persons of that class—one which they could not themselves be expected to surmount; and he thought the great landed interest of this country, and the ecclesiastical and literary interests, with their possessions and preferments, ought not to grudge assistance to their poorer brethren for the object of providing the necessary buildings. There were many persons whose libraries contained numberless volumes with which they could very well dispense, and whose mere duplicates would often furnish very valuable libraries for the poorer classes; but these books were not contributed to public libraries, simply because there was no safe and permanent place of deposit for them. The Bill proposed to obviate this difficulty; and he hoped, therefore, that the House would allow it to go into Committee.


said, he had voted against the second reading of the Bill because it gave a power of taxation without any check upon the exercise of that power, and because the hon. Member for Dumfries would not pledge himself to introduce a clause giving the ratepayers the power of determining the amount of such taxation. Many hon. Gentlemen voted against the Bill on that occasion upon the same ground; and it was therefore unfair to say that a majority of the House was opposed to the principle of the Bill. The hon. Member for Dumfries had, however, since given notice of his intention to introduce clauses which would obviate his (Mr. Muntz's) objections to the measure, and he would therefore vote in favour of the Motion for going into Committee.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 99; Noes 64: Majority 35.

List of the NOES.
Arkwright, G. Hornby, J.
Baillie, H. J. Knox, Col.
Bankes, G. Lacy, H. C.
Barnard, Visct. Law, hon. C. E.
Blackstone, W. S. Lennox, Lord A. G.
Bowles, Adm. Lockhart, W.
Bremridge, R. Lopes, Sir R.
Buller, Sir. J. Y. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Carew, W. H. P. M'Neill, D.
Chatterton, Col. Manners, Lord J.
Christopher, R. A. Meux, Sir H.
Clive, hon. R. H. Mullings, J. R.
Clive, H. B. Naas, Lord
Cocks, T. S. Newdegate, C. N.
Codrington, Sir W. Oswald, A.
Coles, H. B. Packe, C. W.
Colvile, C. R. Palmer, R.
Conolly, T. Plumptre, J. P.
Deedes, W. Ricardo, O.
Denison, E. Richards, R.
Disraeli, B. Smyth, J. G.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. Spooner, R.
Duncombe, hon. A. Stafford, A.
Duncombe, hon. O. Stanford, J. F.
Fellowes, E. Stuart, J.
Fuller, A. E. Vyse, R. H. R. H.
Gooch, E. S. Walpole, S. H.
Gordon, Adm. Walter, J.
Halford, Sir H. Wegg-Prosser, F. R.
Halsey, T. P. Wellesley, Lord C.
Henley, J. W. TELLERS.
Herries, rt. hon. J. C. Sibthorp, Col.
Hildvard, R. C. Buck, L. W.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee; Mr. Bernal in the chair.

On Clause 1,


proposed the following alteration in the first clause as it stood originally in the Bill:— After the words 'it shall be lawful,' to insert 'for the Town Council of any municipal borough—the population of which, according to the last account taken thereof by authority of Parliament exceeds 10,000 persons—for the purpose of determining whether this Act shall be adopted for such borough, to convene a meeting of persons rated to the relief of the poor within such borough, by notices signed by the mayor, or Ave members at least, of the said council, and given three clear days at least before such meeting by fixing the same on or near the door of the town-hall of the said borough, and on or near the door of the church or chapel of every parish or chapelry wholly or in part within the said borough, stating the special purpose of such meeting; and, if it shall be resolved at such meeting, by two-thirds of the voters there present, that this Act shall be adopted, then it shall be lawful for such Town Council.'


suggested that fourteen clear days' notice of the meeting should be given, instead of three; to which Mr. Ewart acceded.


them moved a proviso to the clause, providing that no rate should be enforced unless one-third of the ratepayers should be present at the meeting.


said, that would tend to defeat the object of the Bill, as they could not expect in a town of 70,000 or 80,000 inhabitants, that one-third of the ratepayers should attend.


then said, that he would suggest an alteration in the Amendment which he had already proposed, to the effect that not less than one-third of the whole number of ratepayers in the borough should be present at the meeting, and that no ratepayer should have a right to vote who should be in arrear of his poor-rate.


objected that there was no machinery in existence by which the number and proportion of the ratepayers of a borough could be ascertained.


said, that in the borough of Manchester, where there were some 30,000 to 40,000 ratepayers, it would be impossible to find a room that would hold the third of the entire number.


suggested, that instead of holding a meeting at which a certain proportion of ratepayers should be present, it would be better if a requisition or paper were previously prepared, which should be signed by a proper proportion of the ratepayers.


approved very highly of the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Marylebone. It would be very easy to pack a meeting, and a requisition duly signed would give the only guarantee against the possibility of such a trick.


inquired if Mr. Stanford intended to press his Amendment?


thought the proposition of the hon. Member for Marylebone the best that had been made; but unless he were assured that the Committee meant to adopt it he should press his own.


said, that at that hour, and under all the circumstances, it would be better to proceed no further that day. He should, therefore, suggest that the hon. Member for Marylebone should draw up a clause embodying his suggestions, which could then be taken into consideration, and he would move that the Chairman report progress, and ask leave to sit again.


declined to frame a clause. If the hon. Member for Dumfries would look in to the 1st and 2nd William IV., he would find such a clause already drawn.

The House resumed.

Committee report progress; to sit again Thursday, 9th May.

The House adjourned at three minutes before Six o'clock.