HC Deb 02 August 1881 vol 264 cc681-9

[Progress 29th July.]

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 2 (Regulations for hawking petroleum).

Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."


said, that the question of allowing pedlars to carry petroleum about in carts had become a very large cry in all the large towns. They were able to carry petroleum about in carts, and to carry on their business opposite the shops of trades people dealing in the same article; and so great had the outcry against this become that he had been asked to introduce a Bill compelling those people to desist from that practice. It was very injurious to trades- people who had to pay heavy rates and taxes; but this Bill proposed to legalize what these pedlars could not now do. These people could only be dealt with by prosecutions for obstruction in the streets; but trades people knew that that was an impracticable way of dealing with them. This Bill proposed to extend the provisions of the Hawker's Bill, and allow the hawkers to carry a dangerous commodity through the streets of towns and villages; but he should like to know in whose interest the Bill was promoted? He understood the hon. Gentleman to say that it was in the interest of the poor; but he could assure the hon. Gentleman that nothing could be more detrimental to the interests of that class who had suffered from depression of trade, and who were trades people, and he thought those were the people to whom sympathy was due. He could not conceive any class of poor people who were benefited. No one could have greater sympathy with the poor than he had, but he could not see for whose interest this Bill was promoted. He hoped some information would be given as to who the promoters were, and that hon. Members who represented large boroughs would look closely into the provisions of the Bill, which was calculated to do a great deal of harm.


I must point out that this is not the second reading of the Bill.


said, the hon. Member had strangely misconceived the purport of the Bill. He seemed to oppose it as though it were a question between hawkers and non-hawkers, and as if it would increase hawking; but it had nothing at all of that character. It did not in any way interfere with the issue of licences or the restrictions applying to hawking. It simply dealt with the hawking of petroleum and not with the licences. No one not otherwise licensed to hawk would be able to hawk under this Bill. It did no more than allow a licensed hawker, having a licence to keep petroleum, to hawk it. The hawking of petroleum went on now; and if the hon. Gentleman had any acquaintance with the rural life of England, and the convenience of hawking petroleum from door to door, he would see that the Bill dealt with the convenience of the poor in the country. By this Bill it was proposed that any person who was licenced to deal in petroleum might, under certain prescribed conditions, hawk it.


urged that it was not safe to allow people to hawk petroleum, and he would ask hon. Members to consider what would be the result of any damage to a vessel containing 10 gallons of petroleum. He would remind the Committee of the terrible accident which had occurred in Wales some years ago, when a Peer of the Realm and other persons of less consequence were burnt to death; and if such an accident could occur on a railway with all the care taken by railway officials, how could it be said that such an accident would not occur to petroleum hawked about the streets? He begged to move that Progress be reported.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Warton.)

The Committee divided:—Ayes 3; Noes 70: Majority 67.—(Div. List, No. 349.)

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 (Modification of regulations by Secretary of State).


explained that this clause proposed to empower the Secretary of State to alter, repeal, or vary regulations laid down by the Act; but he proposed to move an Amendment by which such alterations should be laid before Parliament before becoming law. The desirability must be recognized of relieving the House of the necessity for entering into matters of detail; and he thought the objections which had been raised to this clause would be removed by his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 8, at end, insert as a separate paragraph,— Every such regulation shall be laid before both Houses of Parliament forthwith after it is made if Parliament be then sitting, and, if not, within seven days after the then next Session of Parliament. If within forty days after any such regulation has been laid before Parliament either House of Parliament resolves that such regulation should be annulled, the same shall thenceforth become void without prejudice to anything done in the meanwhile in pursuance thereof."—[Mr. Courtney.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there added."


said, he thought the proposed Amendment itself required amending. It proposed that the regulations should be laid before Parliament forthwith, if Parliament was sitting, and, if not, within seven days after the then next Session of Parliament. That would mean in the Recess. The words should read—"after the commencement of." He was still resolute against the clause, and exceedingly sorry that at that hour in the morning they should have to consider what he regarded as a matter of great significance with regard to legislation. He did not at all agree that the House should abdicate its functions and allow a Secretary of State to exercise them. It was a dangerous doctrine to propound; and dangerous to pass this clause suggested by the growing tendency on the part of Departments to gain extraordinary powers, and so avoid the vigilance of Parliament. This affected a large class of very useful men; they were, in fact, costermongers of petroleum, carrying the article about the country. These men carried petroleum in the country from cottage to cottage, nearly all of which were lighted by it. The hawkers carried on the business with benefit to the community, and were, he thought, in every way to be encouraged rather than suppressed. A case had been made out for supervising the hawking by these men of this rather dangerous material, and the Bill which had been prepared set forth the different regulations which were to be observed. The provisions were drawn with some care, but had been rendered wide and vague in order that there might be no case which would escape the general power of the magistrates to say whether or not a person against whom a charge might be brought was guilty of negligence in the conveyance of this material. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtney) advocated in Committee the retention of a clause of this sort—a clause which would enable one of Her Majesty's Secretaries of State, from time to time, to make, or, when made, to alter, repeal, or add to regulations for the purpose of rescinding, altering, or adding to regulations contained in the Bill with respect to hawking petroleum. The regulations contained in the Act would be part of the law of the land, and the penalty for breaking them would be a maximum of £20. By this clause it was proposed to intrust the Secretary of State with authority to repeal, or abolish, or alter part of an Act of Parliament. What was the use, then, of specifying any of those things which he was to be empowered to do? Why should they not say simply—"Be it enacted that the Secretary of State shall declare what the law shall be with regard to the hawking of petroleum? "The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtney), who was repentant rather late, seemed to see that this was objectionable, and endeavoured to disarm criticism by saying that when the Secretary of State had passed new regulations they should be laid on the Table of the House, and not come into force until the expiration of 40 days. After they had been on the Table for 40 days, and no objection was taken to them, they would become law; be that an Act of Parliament might be by them repealed, unless there was a protest made within 40 days. The Secretary of State would be empowered to continue the Act up to, say, next February, and he might then choose to abolish or repeal the main part of it and substitute something else. It might then wait for some time until it should receive the tacit sanction of Parliament; but the moment that he made the regulations the hawker of petroleum might be prosecuted for any breach of them without knowing of the change. Of course, it would be said that, under such circumstances, magistrates would not convict; but magistrates were sometimes led away by evidence that was not quite reliable, and they sometimes were of opinion that a defendant was not telling the truth, and this especially when he said he did not know the state of the law. It would be best to have the law contained in a Statute Book, so that the hawker might have resort to it, or his legal adviser might know where to find it. He (Mr. Hopwood) objected to giving a Secretary of State, however eminent he might be, power to alter or rescind a law. These things always resolved themselves into this. Some official suggested a certain course to the Secretary of State, and the Secretary of State, who was, perhaps, overworked, would only run his eye over the proposal to see if he could agree to it. If there was nothing very objectionable to his mind in it, it received his sanction. That was not the way in which they should proceed. If the Act, after it was passed, required amendment, an Amending Bill should be brought in and passed.


said, he hoped the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Courtney) would see fit to withdraw this clause. The power given to the Secretary of State to make rules and regulations was a very serious matter, especially on a question of this kind. Under the powers of this clause, the hawking trade of these poor people might be absolutely ruined at the will of the Home Office. Let them, for instance, suppose that a change of Government took place, and the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Whitley) was appointed to the Office held by the hon. Member (Mr. Courtney.) He, in the interest of his friends, the aristocratic shopkeepers, would propose at once to annihilate the hawking trade. He (Mr. Broadhurst) was, therefore, considerably alarmed at the proposal of the Government, after the speech of the hon. Member for Liverpool. The fact was, that London would be absolutely starved within a single week if they put a stop to street-hawking. He had in his pocket a letter on this subject from a man at Greenwich, and he regretted very much that neither of this person's Representatives were in their place to look after his interests. The writer said that he had been in the oil trade for eight years, and mainly looked upon that for providing a living for his family, and paying the rent and rates of his shop. He declared that if these extraordinary powers were given to the Department to interfere with his trade it might ruin him. He (Mr. Broadhurst) hoped the Committee would take particular notice of the appeal that had been made on behalf of the large shopkeepers. These people were constantly harassing the costermongers in all their large towns, although the costermongers were a class who made food possible to the poor by bringing it to their doors. The costermongers were constantly being persecuted by these large and, very often, uncivil and high-priced shopkeepers. Whatever the Committee did he appealed to it to protect, as far as possible, not only the immediate but the future interests of these hard-working and deserving hawkers of food and other necessaries of life in their large towns.


said, he looked with great jealousy upon the proposal now made by the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, who told them it was desirable to place this large power of making regulations in the hands of the Executive. No doubt, the hon. Member would say there was a precedent for giving that power to the Government. He might say that the Executive had power to regulate the sale of gunpowder; but the two cases were not parallel, inasmuch as gunpowder was in the hands of a very few persons, and was not hawked about the streets, whilst petroleum was used by very nearly everyone, and was taken from door to door for the convenience of the public. He thought the dispensing power which the hon. Member sought to obtain was objectionable, and ought not to be sanctioned by the Committee. In his Amendment the hon. Gentleman proposed that the rules should be laid on the Table of Parliament, and unless objected to within 40 days, should become law; but they all knew, in a Session such as the present, for instance, what difficulties a private Member experienced in bringing forward a Motion, and in getting a question decided. It might be impossible for any step to be taken within 40 days. As the Government would be in favour of the rules they proposed, it could not be expected, if any Member took exception to them, that they would put themselves out of the way to give him an opportunity of making his objection, so that, as he had said, a private Member would have very little chance of bringing forward his case within 40 days. There was a very strong objection to this proposal on the part of many hon. Members, and he earnestly hoped that the hon. Member (Mr. Courtney), who had already objected to certain modifications suggested in the 2nd clause, would make a concession in the present case. He (Mr. Dillwyn) had accepted the hon. Member's verdict with regard to the 2nd clause; but he trusted the hon. Member would himself give way on the point under discussion, yielding to the very strong feeling expressed on every side of the House.


said, he agreed in the hope that the hon. Member would withdraw the proposal. The result of adopting it might lead to hardships amongst a poor and useful class. They were dealing with men of a very different class to those affected by the Explosives Act. The proposal affected poor men in a small way of business, who were very useful to a large portion of the community, especially in country districts If it were accepted, the Secretary of State might make some new regulation; a hawker, without knowing it, might infringe that regulation, and his trade might be immediately stopped. It might be stopped until Parliament met again, and probably for 40 days after Parliament had met, and possibly much longer, because, as had been pointed out, a private Member would experience considerable difficulty in bringing on the question within the specified 40 days. The poor man might, in the meantime, be absolutely ruined, because they would take away from him the power of dealing in petroleum and carrying it about from house to house. He trusted the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department would see his way to withdrawing the proposition.


said, that whilst he must confess he did not agree with many Members of the Committee upon these matters, he could not disguise from himself the fact that the clause was very powerfully opposed. The hon. Member for Swansea (Mr. Dillwyn) seemed to object to the Executive Government having power to administer the details of a measure, and the Committee evidently was insufficiently advanced to accept that doctrine. He would withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause negatived.

Clauses 4 and 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 (Definitions).


said, there was a reference made here to the Hawkers' and Pedlars' Act, and he wished to know why only persons hawking petroleum should be allowed to use carriages in their trade? He believed he was correct in saying that in the town of Brighton there were no hawkers at all. The hawking nuisance had risen to such a pitch that the Town Council took means to put a stop to all hawking in the streets. The rich shopkeepers—in spite of what an hon. Member had said—cared nothing at all about it. It was now proposed by a side-wind to give petroleum hawkers a power which no other class of hawkers possessed. If it was desirable to let hawkers generally use carriages, well and good; but it seemed to him highly objectionable that petroleum hawkers alone should be allowed to have this power. He had occasion, very often indeed, as a magis-strate, to hear cases against hawkers, and he knew fines to have been over and over again levied upon them for carrying on their trade contrary to the Acts of Parliament. It seemed to him that it would be unwise to allow the clause to pass.


said, the Bill seemed to him to be a most reasonable one in every respect, except Clause 3, which they had just struck out. If Clause 6 were struck out half the utility of the measure would be done away with. He had seen petroleum hawked about the streets, and he could assure the Committee it was not carried about in great carts, but in cans fixed upon wheels, just as milk was carried from door to door. If they didsnot allow it to be taken about in that way it would be necessary for parents to send out children, perhaps 10 or 12 years of age, or even younger, with bottles or small tin cans for this dangerous material; and certainly that would be much more objectionable than the course proposed by this clause.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 7 agreed, to.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.