HC Deb 22 February 1881 vol 258 cc1598-603

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the object of the Bill was to consolidate and digest the present law relating to Free Libraries. It was proposed to raise the number of requisitionists necessary to obtain a preliminary meeting from 10 to 50, because it seemed unreasonable that so small a number of ratepayers as 10 should be permitted to raise so large a question. If those who wished to adopt the Act could not secure a fair amount of support, they certainly could not carry their Resolution. Secondly, it was proposed that after a Library had been opened five years it should be possible to disestablish it. If it were unsuccessful it had better be closed. At present, those who opposed the opening of Free Libraries doubtless argued with some force when they said that such a Library, even if useless, when once opened could never be closed again. It was proposed, moreover, that boroughs should be allowed to combine for the purpose of having a Free Library, even if they did not actually touch each other. Beyond that, it was proposed that the voting in such cases should be by means of voting papers, which would be much less troublesome to everyone, and give more satisfactorily the real feelings of the ratepayers. In the case of Museums, it was proposed to legalize lectures, which would certainly render them much more useful and instructive. It was not proposed to raise the present limit of a penny. The question of rating was left exactly in its present position. The Bill also removed some doubts which had arisen as to procedure. Most persons would agree that Free Libraries were a great boon to the poor. If anyone doubted the demand for cheap literature — a demand which the spread of schools would certainly increase—let him go into the poorest quarters of any great town, and he would find ample proofs. Unfortunately, the literature supplied was far from being of a satisfactory character. Thus, Free Libraries contrived "a double debt to pay"—they provided a supply of useful and ennobling literature, and saved the young and the poor from what was degrading and injurious. He would give an illustration of the enormous number of volumes distributed by these lending Libraries. According to the Return for 1876, the total issue of books for the year was—in Sheffield, 316,000; Birmingham, 505,000; Leeds, 377,000;Manchester,750,000; Liverpool, 800,000—the total number of books for England and Wales being in that year no less than 5,000,000. But since then even these large numbers had considerably increased, and last year the volumes issued in Liverpool alone amounted to no less than 1,300,000. He hoped the House would admit the advantage that would be derived from consolidating the law, and thought he need not enlarge on the desirability of facilitating the establishment of Free Libraries in the many important towns which, it was to be regretted, had not yet adopted the Acts. He had a large number of Petitions in favour of the Bill, signed by members of Free Library Associations throughout the country, and the managers of Libraries. In conclusion, thanking the House for having permitted him to make these few observations, he would merely repeat that the measure did not touch the question of rating, and only touched points upon which he did not think there would be much difference of opinion amongst hon. Members on either side of the House. If the Bill had proposed any alteration in the law on which there was likely to be a substantial difference of opinion, he should not have moved the second reading at that late hour; but he trusted that, seeing the great advantage there always was in a Consolidating Act, hon. Members would allow the measure to be read a second time. If it was thought desirable to have a Committee to consider how far these Libraries were as he described them, he should be happy to meet hon. Members opposite on the point; but, considering how little time they had had this Session, he trusted the House would consent to the second reading.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir John Lubbock.)


was exceedingly sorry that his hon. Friend had thought it necessary to ask the House to read this Bill a second time that morning. The hon. Baronet had made use of the word "unreasonable," and he (Sir Walter B. Barttelot) would adopt it, and characterize it as most unreasonable to ask them to deal with such an important Bill as this at such an hour —2 o'clock in the morning. He would move the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Sir Walter B. Barttelot.)


hoped that the hon. Gentleman would not persist in his Motion. He could say for himself and his hon. Friends that they were quite in favour of the measure; but they observed, on reading the second part of it, "This Act shall not extend to Scotland or Ireland." He would not refer to that matter more than to say that when Bills of the excellent character of the present one were introduced, they should be ex-tended to Ireland.


said, there were some clauses in the Bill to which he had special objection, especially those that referred to the appointment of an Inspector by the Education Department. He thought the local authorities could manage these things very well, and he should certainly object to any increase of the inspecting power of the Education Department. At the same time, so far as this was a consolidating measure, it was a very good one, and it was very desirable that the Acts should be consolidated. There was nothing in the Bill to take increased power of rating, and whatever the details were, they might be very well considered by a Select Committee. It was not as though the House were asked to consider a largo and comprehensive new measure, the hon. Baronet only wishing to improve the initiatory step for the establishment of Free Libraries. Everyone knew how they were established now, and how difficult it was in large constituencies to get meetings to consider the matter fairly. Meetings were called, and 500 or 600 people were got together to consider whether or not a Free library should be established; the rooms were packed, and very often packed by those persons who were most bitterly opposed to Free Libraries, so that the subject was not at all fairly considered. This, however, was not a time for discussion. They could not possibly go into the question at this hour; therefore, as the hon. Baronet might never have an opportunity of bringing on the measure at a more reasonable hour, he would appeal to hon. Members opposite to allow it to be read a second time and referred to a Select Committee. So far as he (Mr. Mundella) was concerned, he certainly should oppose anything like increased cost to the State, central control, inspection, or any connection with the Libraries at all in the matter of supervision on the part of the Department. The local authorities, he thought, did the work very well. The Corporations had the power to appoint the best men in the town, and he did not believe any branch of our local business was much better managed than our Free Libraries. Under the circumstances, he would appeal to the hon. Member not to press the Motion for the adjournment of the debate.


was, and always had been, an advocate of Free Libraries; but he protested against being asked to go into the consideration of a Bill of this kind at this hour in the morning. They had come there for a special purpose, at the special call of the Government, to consider an urgent matter; and he, in common with his hon. Friends, had been sitting there night after night to assist the Government, and with no other object, and on the implied and tacit understanding that no other Business would be taken. The right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down (Mr. Mundella) had shown that one part of the Bill was to be opposed by the Government, and there were other parts to be opposed by hon. Members sitting behind him (Sir E. Assheton Cross); therefore, he considered it unreasonable to go on with the measure at this hour. He deprecated the practice that had grown up of late years of allowing a Bill to be read a second time on the understanding that no principle was affected. He objected to such a violation of the Orders of the House, and appealed to the hon. Baronet not to press on the second reading to-night.


said, he heard with the greatest astonishment the obstruction, based on the ground that this was no hour to discuss the Bill; and he was the more astonished that this argument came from Englishmen, who had declared 4 o'clock in the morning to be an excellent hour to discuss a much more important Irish measure. He and hon. Friends around him had remained in the House to support this Bill, notwithstanding that for the past six weeks on them had fallen the brunt of the work. They had vindicated their conduct by remaining in the House to support a Bill designed for the good of the English people; and they were ready to continue sitting there to help forward that measure designed for the benefit and advantage of the English people, no matter at what personal inconvenience. What had he heard from the right hon. Gentleman (Sir E. Assheton Cross), an ex-Minister of the Crown? Why, that that was no hour to go into such a Bill? He (Mr. Sullivan) would put his argument in favour of the second reading on the ground that it did not come well from English Members to object to the stage at 2 o'clock in the morning, when they had said at 4 or 5 o'clock on other mornings, in reference to another measure—"Oh, this is a convenient hour; an excellent hour to continue the discussion." He hoped the hon. Baronet (Sir John Lubbock) would receive the support of the House, and that hon. Members would be consistent and declare, at least, 2 o'clock "an excellent hour" for the transaction of Public Business. He was glad that he saw hon. Members put to the blush—that he saw exposed the hypocrisy who had said that 5 o'clock in the morning was an excellent hour for suspending the Constitution of Ireland, and yet objected to giving Free Libraries to the people of England at 10 minutes past 2.


would remind the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down that the Irish measure to which he had referred had been discussed at all hours of the day from 4 o'clock in the afternoon, before it was proposed to continue the discussion at 5 o'clock in the morning. The present was a different question, inasmuch as the measure came on for second reading for the first time at 2 o'clock in the morning. Though he was in favour of the Bill, and should vote for its second reading, he would put it to the House whether such an important matter could be properly discussed at such an hour in the morning.


could not, on the present occasion, agree with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Meath (Mr. Sullivan), seeing that the hon. Member had supported the Motion for the adjournment of another debate on the ground that they had to come down to the House again at 12 o'clock to-day. If there was any force in that argument before, there was a great deal more force in it now. The Bill contained provisions which were very excellent in their character, but which were very important, and deserving of full and careful consideration. There were provisions in it so useful that he should like to see the measure extended to Ireland; and though he was disposed to support the Motion for adjournment, he should be very willing to agree to the second reading, if he could obtain from the hon. Baronet in charge of the Bill an assurance that he was willing to extend it to Ireland.


said, he did not know what view hon. Friends around him would take of the matter; but, after the appeal made by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House, he thought it would be better not to press the Bill that evening. He was very anxious to carry hon. Members with him; and as he gave way now, in deference to their views, he trusted that those hon. Gentlemen would kindly assist him in bringing the measure forward on some future occasion.

Motion agreed to.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.