HC Deb 05 April 1854 vol 132 cc453-64

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill said, that the former Act passed in reference to this subject had brought about the establishment of free libraries or museums, and in some cases both, in no less than thirteen towns throughout this country. Among the first so established was that of Warrington, whose example was soon followed by Salford. Then a noble library and museum were founded in the city of Manchester, about 12,000l. being subscribed for the foundation of the institution, which was now supported by a rate levied upon the town. The number of books there amounted to about 16,000, and the issue of books in the course of nineteen months was 230,000. In Liverpool there had been established a library and museum, and also, in addition to that, two lending libraries, from which books were borrowed by all the working classes. A lending library had also been established in Manchester with very good effect. At Bolton, too, there was a library and museum, with a lending library; and he had received communications within the last few days announcing the proposed establishment of such institutions at Sheffield, Oxford, Cambridge, Stockport, and a variety of other places throughout the country. It might be asked, what had been the result of such institutions? and the answers universally were, that the result had been most satisfactory. Since the establishment of these libraries the taste for reading had greatly increased, and there was a manifest improvement as regarded the class of books read. History was now more read than it had been at the first opening of these establishments, and the best books were gradually superseding, in the estimation of the people, those which might be considered of a more objectionable character. The question was, whether the Act under which these libraries had been opened should be further extended? At present the Act was limited to towns under municipal government, and many towns in this country which had no municipal corporation requested that the Act should be extended to them. It was necessary, therefore, to give to towns governed under an improvement Act, like Cheltenham, and to places governed by a vestry—such as Marylebone—the power of adopting the provisions of the Bill. There was also a power given in the Bill for parishes to unite together for the common purpose of forming a library. Then, the former Bill did not extend to Scotland and Ireland, but, by the desire of many of the inhabitants, both of Scotland and Ireland, it was intended that the present Bill should extend to those two countries, either by the insertion of clauses having that effect, or, if it was considered necessary, by the introduction of separate Acts. By the former Act town councils were not allowed to levy a rate of more than one halfpenny in the pound for the establishment of those libraries, but, on the representation of the inhabitants of a great many places, he proposed the extension of that power to the amount of one penny. Again, in the former Bill, no power was granted to buy books or works of art; but that power was proposed to be given by the present Act. There was also a restriction in the old Bill which prevented the readoption of this measure within two years, if on its first proposal in the town it happened to be rejected. That restriction would now be abolished, and full powers given to adopt the measure at any time. It had been suggested that powers should be granted not only to purchase books, but newspapers. Now, he himself had no objection to such powers being granted, but in such a case he thought the newspapers should be apart from the library, and the library consecrated to those objects to which it was more particularly devoted. He was of opinion that much general good must result from the establishment of those libraries. In the first place, they would supply to the working classes works of a standard character. Then they might be made to illustrate the local history of the counties and places in which they were established, and to exhibit specimens of its geology and natural formation. While improving the intellectual capacities of the working classes, they would tend to advance the religious and moral welfare of those classes; and, believing this, he hoped the House would assent to the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, he did not rise to oppose the second reading of the Bill, but he was sorry to see that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board was not in his place, because he wished to hear what view he took with respect to the heavy burden which would be thrown upon the poor rate. By this measure it was proposed to give power to tax the parishes to the extent of one penny in the pound; the whole amount of the rate levied for the relief of the poor being only about a shilling in the pound. This Bill made an important alteration in the present law, by shifting the option of adopting its provisions in towns governed by municipal corporations from the ratepayers to the town council. The effect of this would be to deprive the poor people who would have to pay the rates of any direct control over their imposition. This would require careful consideration, for it was a very serious thing to give the town councils a power to add one penny in the pound to the poor rate, and to take the poor rate and apply it to other purposes.


said, he agreed with the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henley) that this was a question of considerable importance, because it was providing the better class with the means of procuring information, while one-half of the population, from not being able to read, were unable to appreciate the advantage placed within their reach. Last Session he had pressed the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) to consider whether some measure of general education to prepare for the establishment of these libraries ought not to occupy the attention of the House. He (Mr. Hume) was aware of the great difficulty which attended the subject, but it was a matter of great regret and mortification to every one who saw the ignorance of the people, particularly in country districts, that they were not able to adopt any educational measure in consequence of the extreme views of different sects upon the subject. Now, religion, he thought, was designed for the improvement of the condition of mankind, instead of which it seemed to be made use of in this question only to breed discord and difference. It was remarkable to see the number of persons summoned upon a coroner's jury who were unable to sign their names, and he wished the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Home Department would call for a return showing how many of such individuals could not write. He should, however, support the second reading of the Bill.


said, that the hon. Gentleman who brought forward this Bill had stated no reason for making so important an alteration in the Act passed only four years ago, as taking the option of adopting its provisions from the ratepayer, and giving it to the town council. He could see no reason for this alteration, but a very good one against it. The provisions of the present Act prevented the inhabitants of large boroughs, who might be unable to avail themselves of the advantages of the library, from being taxed for its support. That protection, however, was now to be taken from them. Again, it was now proposed to join three or four country parishes together for the purpose of supporting a library. Was it really intended to tax the poor cottager who now paid to the poor rate for this purpose? He thought that it was desirable to hear the opinion of Her Majesty's Government upon this question; but as none of its Members were then present, he would move that the debate should be adjourned.


said, that his hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart) had expressly stated that he proposed to give the option of adopting the Bill to the town councils of municipal boroughs, because this principle had been already adopted with respect to baths and washhouses; and he could see no reason why a different course should be adopted in the two cases. He was in a position to state that nothing could be more popular than these libraries in the large towns of Manchester and Salford, where they had been some time established. Nor could anything, in his opinion, be more beneficial. He believed that the establishment of libraries and the diffusion of instruction amongst the people would be the best means of police that could be established. He had rather see the people governed through their minds than by physical force, and would therefore support any measures that had a tendency to spread the blessings of education amongst them. It was said that the effect of this Bill would be to augment the poor rate, but he believed that in reality its effect would be to promote social improvement to such an extent as would in the end lead to a diminution of the poor rates.


thought that the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had given the most extraordinary reason for altering the present law respecting public libraries. The hon. Gentleman had stated that there was a precedent for the alteration now proposed to be made in the Act which gave the power of levying a rate for the establishment of baths and washhouses, but that did not appear to him to be a fair precedent. Both educated and uneducated persons might use the baths and washhouses, but it was only the educated portion of the community who would be able to take advantage of the public libraries. It was only fair to let that part of the population which could not read know that they were going to be taxed to the extent of one penny in the pound for an object from which they could derive no possible advantage. It appeared to him that the introduction of this Bill tended to show that the number of libraries which it was anticipated would be established at the passing of the Act now in force had not been established; but, in his opinion, it would become the Government to state what course they deemed it advisable to adopt. The House had just passed a most important and, he believed, most beneficial private Bill without any remark being made by any Minister, and now, when there was a public Bill before the House which proposed to repeal an Act passed only four years ago, not a single Minister had expressed any opinion on the subject. If the hon. Gentleman the Under Secretary for the Home Department did not state to the House what was the course proposed to be taken by the Government, he should certainly vote for the adjournment of the debate.


said, he must apologise for the absence of the Members of the Cabinet, by stating that they were all occupied by their official duties. The noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell) had, however, told him what the views of the Cabinet were upon this question. The Act at present in force had been in operation for so short a period, that there had not been sufficient time to afford an opportunity of testing its results, and, therefore, the Government were of opinion that it would hardly be prudent for the House to consent to the present proposal, and still less so, as the present Bill was founded on a principle the direct opposite to that of the Act now in operation. The question had been so well argued, that he could only repeat that the argument appeared to him irresistible, that, while by the present law a rate could be levied by the consent of the majority of the ratepayers, good reason should be shown for taking away that power from the ratepayers and vesting it in the town council. As far as he understood the general feeling of the House and the principles of modern legislation, both were in favour of giving the ratepayers as much voice as possible in the management of their own affairs; and a large portion of ratepayers would not be contented with a rate levied by the town council without their consent. This was the view the noble Lord the Member for London took of this question, and that noble Lord had requested him, in the unavoidable absence of any Member of the Cabinet, to state that opinion to the House.


said, he thought the Government had no right to delegate even to the hon. Gentleman the expression of their opinion on the subject, but that if they intended to oppose the Bill, the noble Lord the Member for the City (Lord J. Russell) ought to have been present, in order to bring the whole weight of the Government to bear upon the decision of the question. In answer to the objections which had been made to entrusting the corporations with the power of establishing these institutions, he must remind the House that our town councils were representative bodies, elected by and responsible to their fellow-citizens; and that it might, therefore, be fairly presumed that they would not levy any rates which they believed would be obnoxious to their constituents. The Act now in operation had been most gratefully received by the largest and most populous of our towns, who were exceedingly desirous for the alterations in the law which would be introduced by the present measure. He was sorry to see that Her Majesty's Government were taking a course which would tend to discourage the noble efforts which the people of this country were making for the diffusion of education.


said, that the present measure was not confined to those places only which were under the operation of the Towns Improvement Act, but that it extended to all towns with a population exceeding 8,000 persons. The Act passed in the year 1850 enabled municipal bodies, by a vote of two-thirds of the ratepayers, to adopt the provisions of that Act, while by the Bill of the hon. Member for Dumfries it was proposed to vest the sole power in the town council. The question had been argued as if, by opposing this Bill, the people of this country would be prevented obtaining that which it was most desirable that they should obtain—he meant the fullest means of improvement; but that was not, he considered, a sound argument. So strong were his objections to the Bill that he should request the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) to withdraw his Amendment, for the purpose of moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


said, he was quite ready to withdraw his Motion, and leave it to some other hon. Member to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He had only moved the adjournment of the debate in order that the opinion of the Government might be given; that had since been done by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Fitzroy.)


said, he objected to this course. If the House rejected the Bill, it would appear to the country that they objected to its principle. Now, in fact, what was objected to was merely the giving of an increased power to town councils, which was a detail that might be amended in Committee. He hoped, therefore, that they would agree to an adjournment, in order to give the Government an opportunity of making up their minds on the subject.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."

The House divided:—Ayes 4; Noes 134: Majority 130.

Question again proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, he would now move, as an Amendment, that it be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Ques- tion to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, he must call upon the Government to explain why they wished to postpone the second reading of the Bill for six months. Was it that they might bring in a better measure, or had they any other measure? He thought it would be most improper to reject such a measure without telling the country why; for this would in fact be telling the people that they were not capable of judging for themselves whether it was desirable to establish those institutions.


said, he had no doubt that the Government would bring in a Bill on this subject, but he feared it would not be for some time. He must beg the House to recollect that this Bill would confer a real practical benefit upon the people; and that while a large number of petitions had been presented in its support, not one against had been laid on the table of the House. He would, therefore, put it to the Government whether they would prevent the Bill from going into Committee, where, if it was thought desirable, the clause with respect to the levying of the rates might be struck out, while those other portions of the Bill which related to the extension of libraries might be preserved.


said, that as a friend of education in every practical shape, he would support the second reading of this Bill. He, for one, was sorry that they were obliged to depend upon such small means—such infinitesimal instalments—for the education of the people, instead of upon some larger and comprehensive measure brought forward by the Government for the whole country. While, however, he supported the second reading, he must say that he thought it ought to be left to ratepayers to levy the rate, rather than the town council.


said, that he was quite prepared to give a hearty support to any measure of this kind which he thought was likely to be attended with practical benefit; and he would at this stage have overlooked minor defects which might have been amended in Committee. But the fourth clause, which gave to town councils the power of imposing rates for the support of public libraries, without any appeal to the ratepayers, appeared to him to be so objectionable, that he must oppose the second reading, seeing that this clause did, in effect, embody the principle of the Bill. He took that course with great reluctance, because he believed that the object and intention of the measure were thoroughly good; and, if its supporters would omit the objectionable provisions to which he referred, and would confine themselves to the introduction of a large extension and amendment of the Act of 1850, he should be glad to give them his cordial support.


said, that the objection which the Government entertained to this Bill was, that it took out of the hands of the ratepayers, and gave to the town council alone, the option of laying a rate on a municipal borough, for an object which could hardly be considered as one of those necessaries for the provision of which the corporation should be entrusted with the power of levying local taxation. Only four years ago an Act was passed enabling two-thirds of the ratepayers to tax their fellow citizens for the support of public libraries. That Act had not yet been fully and fairly tried, and it was, therefore, he considered, not desirable to pass another until it was seen whether an adequate provision of libraries could not be made under its provisions. It was to the fourth clause, which contained the provision to which he referred, and not to the whole Bill, that the Government objected; because they thought that, until the existing Act had been fairly tried, it was not desirable that the option of levying a rate should be taken from the ratepayers and transferred to the town council.


said, he could not see Why there should be so much delicacy about entrusting town councils with a power to tax the ratepayers for the support of libraries, when they bad been invested with such extensive powers of taxation for other purposes. He believed that the establishment of a public library would be discussed by a town council in a very different manner from that in which they entertained questions relating to any other expenditure. It would engage the attention of the most educated class in each borough, and would therefore receive a much more deliberate and calm consideration than was bestowed upon other matters. That being the case, he really thought that when town councils were entrusted with power to expend scores of thousands of pounds for waterworks and gasworks, for lighting, paving, &c., the power to levy the small rate which was contemplated by this Act might safely be entrusted to them. He was surprised that the Government should oppose the second reading of this Bill upon the grounds which they had alleged, especially as, hitherto, they had not been very scrupulous in allowing Bills to go to a second reading. He more particularly alluded to the Truck Bill, and the Bill respecting the Hosiery Trade and the Payment of Wages Bill. Here, however, was a measure against which there was really no opposition in the country, yet the Government resisted it. The objection of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) was not against the principle, and it might be obviated in Committee.


said, he should support the Bill. Several petitions had been presented from Scotland to have the benefits of the former Libraries Act extended to Scotland, and it was part of the object of the present Bill to make that extension. It was desirable, therefore, that the Government should not in any way check the desire that was arising in the country for the advantages of education, and of all education he thought that self-education was the best possible kind of education.


said, that in reference to what had fallen from the last speaker, during last Session he brought in a Bill to extend the former Libraries Bill to Scotland and Ireland; and, though he was in favour of the extension of the system of public libraries, he conceived that the experiment would not be fairly tried under the proposed Bill.


said, that the Bill referred to by the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fortescue) for extending the operation of the Act of his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) to Scotland had been found unworkable. The present Bill, he believed, would confer great educational advantages on Scotland as well as upon this country, and he believed if the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate were present, he would support it.


said, there was a strong feeling throughout the kingdom on the subject of education. In the district with which he was more immediately connected there was a strong desire to acquire knowledge, and several libraries had been established for the use of the working classes. He hoped Government would allow the Bill to go to a second reading; and, if necessary, objections of detail could be overcome in Committee. If we extended education, we should empty our gaols, and do much to promote religious feeling.


said, he regarded the fourth clause of the proposed measure as a main feature in the principle of the Bill; for it was obvious that, if that clause were expunged, the Bill must be altogether reframed. Undoubtedly his hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart) had a right to have any measure brought forward by him of this nature treated with respect, considering the exertions he had made for the intellectual advancement of the people. He believed the Bill his hon. Friend succeeded in passing through Parliament four years ago was forming the foundation of a very valuable source of improvement in our municipal towns; but if it were intended to carry the principle of that Act still further, looking at it as a means of extending information (and these institutions must be regarded in that light only, and not strictly as educational establishments), he believed they could not take a worse course than by attempting to force it upon those who might be reluctant to accept it. If they left it to the town councils to establish those libraries, in many of the towns the ratepayers would look upon it as a tax imposed upon them for the pupose of providing a library and meeting room for the members of the town council. He hoped, therefore, that the House would not consent to the second reading of the Bill. If it were considered necessary to amend the Act brought in by his hon. Friend four years ago, or the subsequent measure to which his hon. Friend (Mr. Fortescue) had alluded, let his hon. Friend withdraw the present measure, and introduce another confined to that purpose and to the same principle.


was much surprised at there being any opposition to the Bill, and much more at the quarter from whence it proceeded. Although the Bill was not strictly an education Bill, it had an educational tendency, and thus, by circulating information, its effect would be to discourage and prevent crime. In the borough which he had the honour to represent, a large and excellent free library had been established under the existing law; it was attended by great numbers of the working classes; and he could see no objection to extend the powers already possessed for so meritorious a purpose. As to the complaint that the Bill gave municipal councils and representative vestries power to tax the people, that he contended was not a valid objection, because those bodies were elected by the people; and if they taxed the ratepayers improperly, the ratepayers would remove them. He did not think the objection raised to the fourth clause was tenable, and he hoped, therefore, that the House would allow the Bill to be read a second time.


said, he must deny that the fourth clause contained the principle of the Bill—it was only part of the details. The same question was so held in the year 1850, and he could see no reason for viewing it differently now. He did not at all understand the argument of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. Herbert). Was there no representative capacity in town councils? Could they not properly guard the interests of the ratepayers? He thought in justice, and in accordance with the rules of the House, that the Bill should proceed; but if the alteration was forced upon him, he must submit to it, though, at the same time, he was bound to express his astonishment at the fatal facility with which Government consented to compromises—the drift of which he could not understand.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 85; Noes 88: Majority 3.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second Reading put off for six months.