HC Deb 21 February 1861 vol 161 cc747-52

Order for Second Reading read.

Moved, that the Bill be now read a second time.


said, he did not rise to oppose the second reading of the Bill, but to make a few remarks upon the details of its machinery, in the hope that his right hon. Friend would see cause to alter some of them in Committee. The subject was one that had occupied attention in Ireland for a great many years. In 1852, when he had the honour to hold the office of Chief Secretary for Ireland, a Commission was issued to inquire into the question, and their Report certainly showed the need of legislation. But the subject was surrounded with difficulties, for while on the one hand the interests of the public were to be consulted, on the other were the vested rights of the owners, which had never been interfered with. The Bill now before the House proceeded on a somewhat different principle from any that had gone before it. Former Bills appointed certain persons as Commissioners to inquire into the management of markets and fairs, who were to he recognized officers of the Government, and subject to the control of the Executive. But this Bill proceeded on a somewhat different principle, and provided that on representations being made by persons claiming to be the owners of fairs by local traders, or by twenty inhabitants, or by two justices, the Lord Lieutenant should have power to order a local inquiry to he made. Now one of the greatest objections to this Bill was, that the mode of conducting that local inquiry was not laid down, neither is it shown who the inquiring Commissioners are to be. The result of the inquiry would be an Order in Council, which would give extensive powers in the creation of bye-laws, the regulation of tolls, and generally the application to a particular fair or market of the clauses of the Markets Consolidation Bill; and, therefore, he contended that the inquiry itself ought to he conducted by some person of weight, and authority, and experience, skilled in law, and in whom the public would have confidence. Former Bills provided that the Commissioner of Inquiry should be a barrister of ten years' standing; because very important questions would have to be decided by him, and he ought to have that experience which would result from conducting his inquiries over a great number of markets, and ensure a similarity of decision where cases were alike. But he could not learn from the Bill to what class of persons it was intended that the Lord Lieutenant should delegate these important inquiries. There were also great omissions in the Bill. By a former Bill it was laid down that in no case should increased tolls be taken until increased accommodation was provided, and that was really the most important part of the matter. It was perfectly futile to leave that question to be the subject of a bye-law. Minute legislation is impossible; but it most dangerous to leave great principles in a Bill of this kind to be decided by bye-laws. Then, again, there was no provision for uniformity of weights and measures in Ireland. These weights and measures differed in adjoining counties in the most extraordinary manner, and produced all sorts of mistakes. Then there was no provision for market statistics, which, he thought, would he a valuable addition to the agricultural statistics now taken. He also regretted that his right hon. Friend had thought it necessary to mix up the question of fairs with markets; becauses the abuses in fairs were not so flagrant, and interference with them is encompassed with difficulties. He made these remarks in no hostile spirit, but he hoped they would he considered before they got into Committee on the Bill.


said, he objected to the Bill being read a second time before hon. Members had had an opportunity of communicating with their constituents. He had only been able to obtain copies of the Bill on the previous Monday or Tuesday; he sent them down to all the boards of guardians in Tipperary, but had not yet received answers. He was wholly in ignorance as to the opinion of his constituents. The Bill itself was short, but it incorporated the provisions of many other Acts. He feared that the working of the Bill would he extremely unwieldy and expensive. He would suggest the postponement of the second reading.


said, he thought a Bill of the kind before them was greatly needed in Ireland, and should, therefore, be sorry to allow a stage to be lost on that occasion, especially as the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had shown so fair a spirit in inviting opinions and suggestions from the Irish Members. At the same time the powers which the measure vested in the Executive ap- peared to be very extensive. It was, for example, rather a strong proceeding to enable the Lord Lieutenant, even in Council, to shut up a fair. When any fair or market was found not to be wanted it generally had a tendency to shut itself up


pointed out the injustice that would be done by the provisions of the Bill, as they at present stood, to the owners of tolls and customs which were to he abolished, and a rentcharge granted in their stead. He also suggested that in Committee some clause should be insetted for establishing a uniform system of weights and measures for Ireland. As an example of the present state of things lie might mention that in some parts of that country a barrel of potatoes consisted of 24 stone, in others of 48 stone, and in others again of 64 stone. Such discrepancies produced the most ludicrous mistakes in the agricultural statistics of the country.


said, he rose to express a hope that the right hon. Gentleman would postpone the second reading until after the ensuing next assizes in Ireland which was about to take place, and would require the attendance of most of the Irish Members in that country. Not a single Member connected with Ireland doubted the necessity of introducing such a Bill, and they all felt indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for the labour he had bestowed upon it. He thought, however, that the nature of the tribunal which was to adjudicate upon the various rights connected with fairs and markets should be more distinctly pointed out. The 4th Clause provided that the Lord Lieutenant might order a local public inquiry to be made, but who the parties were who were to conduct that inquiry was not stated. It was important that they should be competent persons, and some precaution ought to be taken to obtain an uniformity of decision in the different comities and towns. He found that on receiving the report of that unknown authority the Lord Lieutenant had the most unbounded powers with regard to fairs and markets. He trusted that some provision would be introduced in the Bill for assimilating weights and measures in Ireland, as great inconvenience now arose to buyers and sellers, in consequence of the present anomalous state of things.


said, the people of Ireland were generally in favour of the Bill, and the principle of it had been adopted by Irish Members and the House on two oc- casions. Nothing could be fairer than the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman to read the Bill a second time then, and not to take the Committee until after Easter. That delay would give ample time for hon. Members to attend the assizes, and for persons in the different towns to examine the details of the Bill.


advocated proceeding with the Bill at once, as he thought it an excellent one. Any alterations that might be deemed necessary could be effected in Committee.


said, he also hoped the right hon. Gentleman would take into his consideration the propriety of having some constituted authority to decide in matters of fairs and markets.


remarked, that a very ancient usage in Ireland was to be set aside by the present Bill. The tolls which were now payable on cattle after they had been sold at fairs or markets were made payable by the Bill immediately the gronud was occupied. That would press heavily on a class of persons called jobbers, and upon the poorer peasantry, because, under the system which at present prevailed in Ireland, no toll was paid if the cattle were not sold. He hoped that the Government, in deference of the wishes of a majority of hon. Members, would postpone the second reading.


observed that no hon. Member who had as yet spoken upon the subject had pointed out any objection to the principle of the Bill. Hitherto, the general complaint of the Irish Members was, that measures relating to their country had been postponed to a late period of the Session, when there was no opportunity for considering them in their details. He trusted that, as the Bill before the House was an exception to the general rule, they would throw no impediments in the way of its progress. He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would press it forward, and refuse to jeopardize it3 success by dealing with the question of weights and measures, which might wait for a more suitable period. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman, as he was thus far giving Ireland the benefit of English laws, that lie would give to corporate towns the right to establish fairs and markets without waiting for the authority of the owners of those markets.


said, that no one attached more importance to the Bill than he did, and therefore he should be the last person to throw any difficulty in the way of the right hon. Gentleman opposite. At the same time he felt he should he doing injustice to his country if he did not tell him that this Bill was scarcely known in Ireland. He was convinced that the right hon. Gentleman was actuated by the purest motives to advance the interests of the country. He trusted, however, that under the circumstances, a measure of so much importance would not be pressed forward with inconvenient speed.


said, he trusted that, notwithstanding what had been said by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, that the Government would proceed with the Bill. The principle of the Bill only was then under consideration, and ample time would be given for the discussion of details at a future time. The right hon. Gentleman was very anxious to meet the views of the people of Ireland, and no impediment ought to be thrown in his way,


said, that before the Session began he was very much pressed in Ireland to take the earliest opportunity of introducing the measure; and when he obtained leave, ten days ago, to bring it in, he was then urged to carry it through the various stages as quickly as possible. He believed that the most convenient course would be to read the Bill a second time before the House became engaged with the Supplies, and before Irish Gentlemen left to attend the assizes, and to postpone the Committee till after Easter. He denied that the Bill committed the exercise of great powers to a vague and indefinite body. There could not be a more definite or better known tribunal than the Privy Council of the Lord Lieutenant, to whom the working of the measure was intrusted. As to the local inquiry, it was believed to be better to have an investigation on the spot by gentleman of local standing and experience than by Commissioners in Dublin. Then it was said that they were going to impose tolls without any reference to the accommodation provided; but the contrary was expressly provided, as the Bill expressly laid down that the tolls should not exceed the amount specified in the schedule, and that they should not exceed the amount that was necessary to defray the cost of the accommodation. With regard to the subsequent ratification by Parliament, no doubt on that complicated subject, and also with compulsory powers for the taking of land, he did not think the House would be satisfied to leave it to the Lord Lieutenant in Council, and therefore it was proposed that there should be a local inquiry by order of the Secretary of State, but that that inquiry should have no effect till it had received the subsequent sanction of Parliament, to be obtained without any expense to the parties interested by the Bill brought in by the Secretary of State. His noble Friend the Member for Cockermouth (Lord Naas) had complained that the Bill contained no provision for collecting agricultural statistics. It would be perfectly easy to raise that question in Committee; but his experience was that legislative compulsion in such matters was generally found to fail. So long as agricultural statistics were given voluntarily rapid progress was made in their collection; but when an attempt was made to compel people to give them by law the thing broke down. As to uniformity of weights and measures, nobody could be more sensible than himself of the inconveniences of the present irregularity; and he believed that the Bill would have an important effect in promoting uniformity. There was, however, already a law in existence which provided that weights and measures should be uniform, but he did not believe that it was possible to enforce it. Every hon. Gentleman who heard him filled his cellar with wine, not one bottle of which was of the legal measure. Did any one propose to visit them with fines for buying and selling except by the imperial gallon? Nothing was easier than to draw clauses of that kind, nothing less easy than to carry them into effect. Due regard had been paid to vested interests, and the power of taking land compulsorily was to be exercised according to the practice now followed in England under all local improvement Bills. The measure conferred no power or patronage upon the Executive Government: it proceeded entirely upon the principle of local desire and local agency, and he trusted that it would be allowed to pass into law.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2°.