HC Deb 11 February 1861 vol 161 cc320-4

, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for the better regulation of Markets and Fairs in Ireland said, it related to a subject of great importance to Ireland, which, however, was surrounded by difficulties; and he should have to throw himself upon the consideration and indulgence of Irish Members when the Bill came into Committee. He would not dwell upon the great importance to an agricultural community of having an effective regulation of those places where they dispose of their produce. Although Ireland was happily becoming more and more a commercial country, yet, for some time at least, the extension of agriculture must remain the great object of interest for the people of Ireland. The subject of Fairs and Markets in Ireland had for years attracted the attention of Parliament, and so recently as 1852, during the Viceroyalty of the Earl of Eglinton, a Commission was appointed to inquire into the subject. In the following year they presented a Report, in which they stated that they had held public sittings in ninety-four towns; they had examined upwards of 700 witnesses, and they found the subject regarded as one of great interest by all classes, both mercantile and agricultural. They found that the owners of markets were generally willing to afford that accommodation which the traffickers required, and which was not now afforded, provided they got security for their rates and tolls. The traffickers were ready on the other hand, to pay reasonable tolls, provided they obtained in return that fair accommodation to which they were entitled. But it happened, when the ancient grants under which a great number of these fairs and markets still existed were granted, people were not so clearly informed on the subject as now. And, consequently, the Commissioners reported that in the 349 market towns which existed, and the nearly 1,300 fairs, there was every variety of tolls. They spoke of unreasonable tolls, not warranted by law, charter, or usage, and of tolls collected in the most arbitrary and oppressive manner. From these no remedy could be obtained except by a proceeding at law of the most costly character, quite out of the reach of the poorer classes; and therefore redress was practically impossible. The Commissioners further reported that this went to so great a length that at last there grew up au organised system of resistance, with such effect that in many towns in the northern and eastern parts of Ireland no tolls were collected. Nor did the evil terminate when the tolls were abolished, for it was found that those were the worst markets whore the evil had been violently redressed, and that in them were practised the grossest frauds upon the poorer classes. Now, he did not know whether, for purposes of legislation, all should be taken exactly as it was in the Report, although he believed it to be correct; but so much was beyond dispute, that there was a state of things most inconvenient both to buyers and sellers, it being for the manifest interest of both that the best accommodation should be given in the markets which they frequented. More than two centuries ago this subject attracted the attention of Government. As long since as 1640 a Bill passed through the Irish House of Commons to remedy the very evils of which they were still complaining at the present day. The contemplation of the past might lead them to this conclusion, that it was not reasonably to be expected that in the compass of one Bill a remedy could be found for all the complicated evils which existed. And, therefore, he had arrived at the conclusion that the principle on which the Bill should be framed was that principle of modern legislation, by which each locality was allowed to take the thing into its own hands, and to apply the remedy best adapted to its own case. He had accordingly given power to the individuals interested to obtain the aid and cooperation of Parliament for the purpose of giving statutory authority to local regulations. He proposed that in every fair and market a limited time should be allowed to the person known as the owner of the market to put the statute into operation; but if he failed to do so within the time required, then it should be open to the public of the district to take the matter out of his hands and to put the statute in operation for themselves. For the purposes of the Act the "public" would be either two justices of the peace in the neighbourhood of the market or fair who might certify that the provisions of the statute had not been complied with, or a certain number of persons who commonly resorted to the market. Those persons would have a right to make application to the Lord Lieutenant in Council, and his Excellency would be authorized to direct a local inquiry, and, by order in Council, to bring the particular market under the operation of the General Markets Act of 1847, or of such portions of that Act as it might be thought advisable to apply to it. If the order in Council touched nothing beyond what was contained in the schedule of the present Bill, it would have a binding force proprio vigore. In cases in which bind was to be taken, the subsequent ratification of Parliament might be necessary. Indeed, under the Local Government Act, the rule was to apply to Parliament in such cases, and it appeared to him that it would be right to follow the precedent. He proposed that in cases in which there was a vested interest in tolls the party who claimed it might make an application to the Judges of the Landed Estates Court, in order to establish his title, and then the tolls would be regulated so as to furnish an equivalent for the rights thus established. In other cases, the rates in the schedule to the Bill would be the maximum to which the tolls could be raised, and the object of the tolls, would be merely to pay the necessary expenses for the accommodation of persons resorting to the market. For the summary adjustment of disputes, prevention of fraud in weights and measures, and matters of that kind, a cheap and easy remedy would be provided. Uni- formity of weights and measures was a matter which all classes in Ireland desired. By the Act of last Session the difficulties had been removed, which the limited powers given to the constabulary had previously created. The Bill, therefore, contemplated the establishment in every fair and market of weigh-masters, who would be charged with the duty of keeping proper weights and measures, and who would weigh commodities for a small charge. The whole scope and object of the measure would be to provide a cheap, easy, and expeditious machinery by which, through the medium of local legislation, persons should be enabled to deal with their own interests, and settle their own affairs in their own way. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to introduce the Bill.


said, the Irish Members were indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for having brought in the Bill early in the Session. It would not, however, be complete without something were done by the Government for the purpose of introducing greater uniformity into the system of weights and measures throughout Ireland. At present, wheat, oats, and potatoes were sold by barrel, which differed in almost every county and market town.


observed, that for the last four or five years, in compliance with the wishes of his constituents, it had been his duty to resist the Bills introduced on this subject. The present measure, however, was likely to be more favourably received than any before proposed. Substantially, it copied the Local Government Act of England, giving power to localities to adopt the provisions of a general Bill, and that principle would, he believed, be regarded as satisfactory. With regard to the tolls to be levied in the markets, he suggested that some person should be appointed by the Crown to watch the claims made in the Encumbered Estates Court, so that in all such cases the public might be represented.


was understood to say that compensation ought to be provided for discharged officers.


said, be could not gather from the statements of the right hon. Gentleman that the provisions of the Bill were as extensive as the proposition laid down by the late Attorney General for Ireland, who had been removed to another and a better place. However, were that so or not, he trusted that the same course would not be followed as last Session—he meant the introduction of Irish measures at the beginning of the Session to be thrown out at the end. He thought the Bill ought to contain clauses to enable persons in possession of tolls to dispose of their rights in them.


said, he thought when the Bill was examined it would be found to meet the requirements of the hon. Gentlemen who had spoken, and he tendered them his thanks for the manner in which they had received the measure.

Motion agreed to.

Bill for the better Regulation of Markets and Fairs in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Mr. CARDWELL, and Mr. BAGWELL.

Bill presented, and read 1°.