HC Deb 22 April 1887 vol 313 cc1642-60

MR. BRADLAUGH (Northampton), in rising to move— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying Her Majesty to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire as to the extent to which market rights, and rights affacting places where markets are held, are in the hands (1) of public bodies, and (2) of private persons, or bodies of persons. To inquire generally how such rights are exercised, and particularly what accommodation is given in return for charges levied; in what ratio market tolls stand to the value of goods on which they are levied, and how far the regulation of markets by means of bye-laws or otherwise, market rents, stallages, and tolls, and tolls affecting market towns, are restrictive of trade. To report as to the advisability of compelling the transfer of all such rights to local authorities; of prohibiting the farming of tolls and stallages, of prohibiting the placing of restrictions on the sale of goods in a market that may be lawfully sold elsewhere, of providing by means of the incomes from markets or otherwise for the extension of the capital account chargeable to such markets, and for declaring all markets to be free and open, said, he trusted that the Government would be able to accept the Motion, which in no sense raised a Party question. The real object of his Motion was to decrease the cost of food to the poor, to increase the facilities of the poor for obtaining good food at moderate prices, and to encourage the augmentation by increased cultivation, stimulated by early sale, of home food produce. At the present time market rights and tolls in many places had the contrary effect. Whatever might be the result of this Motion, and whatever action the Government might feel compelled to take on this Motion, he desired to acknowledge the courteous consideration which had been given to the subject by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board. He only proposed, in his speech, to deal with England and Wales; but the terms of his Motion applied to the whole of Great Britain and Ireland, and he trusted that some Scotch and Irish Members would give the House the benefit of their special knowledge. As to Scotland, he was personally without sufficient information, though it was clear that the evil did not now exist in Scotland to the same extent as in the rest of the United Kingdom. There was a Report of a Select Committee on Market Tolls in Ireland in 1826, from which he would read a few lines. The Committee reported that— Many most exorbitant and illegal charges are still made in markets, seaports, and fairs in Ireland, all of the most injurious tendency in checking commerce and industry. Several of these charges appear to your Committee to be so burthensome and oppressive as to produce the most mischievous restraint both on the sale and transit of commodities. And they said— Nor are these examples of violation of the general principles of the Common Law the only abuses existing; the Statute Law has been violated in many important particulars. And they reported specifically that— The intentions of the Legislature, in exempting from burthen the food of the lower classes of the community, have been defeated. He believed that Irish Members sitting near him would be able to state that many of these evils were as bad in Ireland to-day as they were 60 years ago, and this although a Royal Commission, in 1853, had again strongly reported against the same evil. Members from Ireland had sought ineffectually to deal with this by legislation. Bills had been introduced Session after Session into that House by Irish Members, which had been blocked both by Tories and Liberals, and had never even been discussed. The grievance which was, and still is, endured in Ireland is the grievance which now exists in England and Wales. He submitted that a Royal Commission was absolutely necessary in order that the matter might be dealt with in a thorough manner. Neither the House nor the Government had at present sufficient information on which to legislate wisely. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) might say that the Government intended to deal with the evils complained of in a Bill which they were prepared to introduce with regard to local government; but he (Mr. Bradlaugh) understood that such a Bill would only propose to give Local Authorities power to acquire rights. That was not enough, because in many scores of cases the Local Authorities were as bad offenders as private individuals. There were so many instances of the misuse of power by local authorities that it was absolutely necessary that information upon the subject should be obtained by a Royal Commission before it was possible to legislate. In any case it would be necessary to prevent local authorities from farming tolls to private persons. It might also be said by the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board that his Department carefully revised all the bye-laws of local authorities, and that there could be no fear of such things happening as he (Mr. Bradlaugh) complained of. This was no doubt true; but he would point out that this care had not been exercised at all times, and that there were in force at the present time in different parts bye-laws of a very objectionable character. It was not enough to give the Local Authorities power to purchase; there must be some restriction put upon them as to what they should pay. He was quite prepared to accept the position that where the present local representatives under a charter had held markets, and had done anything for the promotion of trade in a district, they should be compensated. Where the local representatives of the holders of the original charters were simply leeches sucking the vitality of the districts and giving nothing in return, hindering food from reaching the poor, driving the sale of food into "rings," limiting the number of shops, and taxing the local produce that came to market so that it did not pay the people in the neighbourhood to grow it—in such cases the local authorities, on acquiring the market rights, ought not to be permitted to pay the same price for them that they would rightly pay where an owner had done a number of things to promote the convenience of buyers and sellers, and to encourage the trade of the district. He had obtained last year an unopposed Return of market rates and tolls. But it did not include any of the many and some most objectionable markets within the densely populated Metropolitan area; in several cases there was a suggestive deficiency of information; and in others the information given was misleading. At Slaithwaite, in Yorkshire, the Local Board stated in the Parliamentary Return that they held their market rights by prescription, which was the poetical word for "cool, impudent presumption." Over and over again it was said that the gross receipts were "not known." Of course, they were "not known" to anyone but the person who got them. And he was told that in several cases the receivers of the tolls had said that it was not the business of the House of Commons to inquire into the matter, and, therefore, they did not intend to give any information. In reply to the question whether the market was held in a street, the answer "No" was given in many cases, thereby suggesting that some sheltered place was provided, whereas the market was held on an open space known as the market - place, and no shelter of any kind was provided. Originally these market rights had been Prerogatives of the Crown, and grants had been made of them to ladies and gentlemen in recognition of some service rendered to the Crown, the service being deemed a sufficient consideration at the moment, although it was one which in modern times no one would deem worthy of such a recognition. Sometimes the consideration was a valid one. There were charters which were granted for the protection of trade. Often the lord of the manor provided armed men to protect the market and those who attended it; and in connection with it there was a Court for the settlement of disputes which was known as "Pie Powder Court." Although some of the Courts remained in name, all that kind of responsibility ceased centuries ago. The rights granted often included the power to set up a fair or a market in the neighbourhood, and under cover of a right of this kind 300 or 400 hawkers had been prevented entering the district of Rochdale for the purpose of supplying the people with food and vegetables. Home of the charters dated back to the time of Henry I., Henry II., and Henry III. Some of the toll receivers had no charters. If they had had them they had lost them; but they still took the money. In some cases they took it quite illegally; but the local magistrates enforced the claim to the privilege as their predecessors had done. The old law as to market rights, and which is still the enforcible law, is— The King is the solo judge where fairs and markets ought to be kept; and, therefore, it is said that if he grants a market to he kept in such a place, which happens not to be convenient for the country, yet the subjects can go to no other."—[Bacon1 s Abridgment: Title, Fairs and Markets.) "If a person hath a right to a fair or market, and another erects a fair or market near his," the charter owner may prevent all sales even by hawkers or shopkeepers, and this "although the new market be holden on a different day." Under this, charter owners in East London had, as against the Great Eastern Railway, been able to do much mischief. The Clerk of the Whitechapel District Board of Works had forwarded him a long statement with respect to the evil effects of the monopoly existing in the Spitalfields Market. He would only trouble the House with one passage from the letter— This Board, having been informed of the Motion which stands in your name for Friday on this subject, have thought that their experience as to Spitalfields Market, which demonstrates how markets of insignificant origin may become very formidable monopolies, may be of some value to you as a matter of information. Important as was this Report, he preferred to venture to appeal to the hon. Member for Preston, who had just had specially to investigate this matter upstairs, to give the House the benefit of his special knowledge on this subject. The effect of the existence of private market rights was to unduly increase the price of food, to limit in many places the sources of food supply, to throw land out of cultivation, so far as varieties of dairy and market produce were concerned, and to facilitate in hands of private owners, or where the market rights were farmed, the formation of "rings" for keeping up the price of food, and particularly of butchers' meat. In many places the poor had had no opportunity of buying Australian or other imported dead meat as such; but as large quantities were known to have entered the districts, it had, no doubt, been sold as English meat at English prices. In such places as he had described the poor were robbed in consequence of the existence of those rights. The regulations with respect to the sale of perishable food, such as fish and vegetables, and sometimes for the limiting of the number of shops in particular trades, were such that if they were framed with the intention of preventing the poor from buying cheaply they could not have been better devised for that purpose. The existence of these market rights created a class of middlemen, who hindered distribution and rendered it costly. If owners of land looked to their own interest they would prevent toll-keepers from interfering as they did with the sale of produce and consequent cultivation of land, and would thus increase their rents. Market rights, as he had explained, were claimed under charter, or letters patent; nearly all were granted in feudal times in connection with manors under conditions as to population no longer even comparable, and with responsibilities and duties now never performed. The charters were granted for no real service or consideration other than the duty of protecting the traders at the market, of providing sufficient accommodation for buyers and sellers, and of administering justice in connection with the market trade as to quality, weight, and so on. There were three classes of owners of market rights—Cities or boroughs with market charters or claim- ing prescription; private individuals, Tinder charters or alleged prescription, this last being often a species of what in the Colonies would be described as "impudent squatting;" local authorities authorized to establish markets under statutes, these now chiefly governed by the Public Health Act, 1875, Sections 166–168; where local authorities claim to levy market tolls by prescription this claim was clearly unfounded, as the whole of those local authorities must have been instituted since the Public Health Act, 1848, and many since the Local Government Act, 1858. He would take as a sample of many from page 72 of the Return in the case of Slaithwaite. In many cases local authorities had acquired chartered rights, paying heavily for them, thus unduly taxing food of the district to recoup outlay. He agreed that in all cases local authorities ought to acquire and did not object to the toll-owners being paid fully where some consideration was shown in providing market premises; but he did object to 20 years' or 25 years' purchase, or a heavy rent being given where the toll-owner was only a leech. In many cases the local authorities had been compelled to pay enormous prices for the charter rights they acquired. He did not propose to give the Royal Commission any power over contracts which had been completed, but it was necessary to show the House the kind of cases he desired to prevent in future. In 1846 Manchester purchased manorial rights and property at the cost of £200,000. He thought that more than £170,000 represented the value of the manorial rights. Since then Manchester had to pay £359,000 for its own markets. The food of the district had been unduly burdened by the payment of that £170,000. In Bradford the Corporation had acquired on lease from the toll-owners the market rights for a payment of a rent of £5,000 a-year. The markets were held in the streets until the Corporation leased the rights, so that the charter went back to a time when Bradford was a little hamlet. This £5,000 a-year taken from the Corporation was a tax on the food of the poor. In Huddersfield the Return was modestly reticent; but as far as he could learn some £44,000 had been paid for the street right. There were many cases of absolutely illegal assumption of rights and of illegal levy of tolls. He would take as samples from page 91 of the Return, the Nottingham Highway Board at Basford, and from page 64 a Market Committee at Fareham. There were many cases in which the Return lacked frankness on these points. In Ware a private owner was levying tolls. That could not be by prescription or by charter, because the market was established on the 24th of March, 1886. That market was chiefly accessible by a bridge, and there were tolls for the bridge which came into effect only on market days for cattle, sheep, and pigs, and thus the food of the unfortunate people of Ware was doubly burdened. Even in municipal boroughs the markets were very often in private hands. In Rochdale the old market proprietors got a Statute passed in the Reign of George IV., which showed how iniquitous some Private Bill legislation could be. They claimed exclusive rights over the whole of Rochdale, though the borough limits had been since largely extended. There had been taken from every hawker who came within the borough 30s., and some who could not pay it were sent to gaol. One of the hawkers went to a lawyer, who held that the old proprietors had no right to levy such a tax. Then they shut every hawker out of Rochdale, a borough which had set a better example than any town in England, or in the world, in its co-operative endeavours for procuring necessaries of life for its people. At least, the House would be with him in slaying this iniquitous usurpation. He had received from 2,000 to 3,000 letters dealing with this subject, but he would content himself with specifying four instances in which these tolls caused considerable hardship to the population of those particular towns. The towns he would select were Market Dray-ton, Fleetwood, Bridgwater, and Taunton. In the first-mentioned case tolls were charged on all vegetables, though sold in the open streets, and no accommodation was provided. The restrictions were of such a nature that people who were growing agricultural produce and bringing it into the town would not now do so in consequence of the annoyance. The result had been that the trade had fallen into the hands of middlemen. At Fleetwood hawking was forbidden from door to door, and it had been announced that farmers were to be forbidden to sell milk to customers except in the place where they paid toll. At Taunton butchers were not allowed to open shops except on payment of £20; and at Bridgewater they allowed only a certain number of shops connected with particular trades in the town. What was the effect of limiting the number of shops in this way? To heighten the prices of commodities to the poor. Not content with reaping a harvest of this kind, however, the toll-owner, when markets were held in the open streets, robbed the ratepayers in another way. After the cattle market or other market was held there was scavenging to be done at the cost of the ratepayers; the toll-owner escaped. He carried off his tolls in his pocket; there was nothing which could be rated; and the local ratepayers were left to pay for scavenging the streets. How many hundred such cases there were in England and Wales alone was shown by the Return, which was divided into three parts—(1) Municipal boroughs; (2) Improvement Acts and Local Government districts; (3) Rural sanitary districts. In Part 1, 255 Corporations made Returns; of these, in 223 cases, rights belong to Corporation; of these 223, 75 were farmed, and of the total 255, 125 were admittedly held in open street, whilst more were actually so held. In Part 2, 249 markets under local authorities were shown; of these, 161 belonged to private owners, and of the remaining 88, 17 were farmed; 145 of these admittedly held in the open street, the real number so hold being far larger. In Part 3, 206 cases were stated, all in private hands, and mostly held in open street. In any reform of local government which might hereafter be introduced, he trusted that steps would be taken to prevent municipal authorities from farming tolls. The effect of such a remedy as he proposed would be to increase the wage of every wage-receiver without increasing the amount which his employer had to pay him. The value of the wage to the labourer must not be measured by its nominal amount. It was what it would procure of food and other necessaries of life. Cheapen the cost of food as this proposal would, and the value of the wage was augmented. Afford facilities for better food, and the standard of comfort was heightened. He trusted he would receive the support of the Government. There were cries outside for turning so- ciety upside down, because of real grievances pressing on the poor. He had never been a revolutionist in his life, so far as this country was concerned—he had always urged the redressal of wrongs by Parliamentary action; but a crisis was undoubtedly coming, and unless Parliament dealt with these outside clamours and showed that it intended to redress the wrongs which could be redressed, they could not complain if violent men should become prone to use violent language. He would conclude by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.

MR. LAWSON (St. Pancras, W.)

in rising to second the Motion, said, he hoped the Government would meet the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) half-way. Rumour went that this matter was to be dealt with in the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) which he had in the pigeon-holes of his Office; but he had not the information which would enable him to deal properly with the question. The House had not intuitive knowledge of the question, which was far too big to be included in one or two clauses of the Bill which the right hon. Gentleman had in view. He was desirous of pointing out to the House that under Acts of Edward I. and Henry VI. there were obligations imposed upon owners of markets which they would not like to see revived to day—these having reference to the taking of outrageous and unreasonable tolls—and that lords of the manor were obliged, as stated in Comyn's Digest, to "witness the sale," which was not a duty they discharged nowadays. The rights granted in olden times were only given in respect of duties performed, and it was perfectly competent for the House to fix their conditions and limitations. He would call the attention of hon. Members to the Report of a Committee which gave valuable information as to the Returns of tolls and customs taken in seaports and markets in Ireland in 1826. That Committee reported that there were many exorbitant and unreasonable charges, which restricted the sale and distribution of commodities, and had a tendency to affect commerce and industry. The Committee recommended that the Court of King's Bench should have the right to determine whether the charges were legal or not, and that those who had rights of this kind should deliver the schedule to the Clerk of the Peace. No legislation succeeded; but in the year 1830 another Committee was appointed, which did not present a Report. There had been no mention of Metropolitan markets; and as a Metropolitan Member he felt very keenly on the subject, because there was no city or town in the Kingdom where there existed a grievance of such magnitude in regard to markets as there was in London. The hon. Member for Northampton had not asked for such a Return. He was generally tender to the privileges of the City of London, and perhaps he did not care to move for a Return by the only method—that of an Address to the Crown. If the Government did not see its way to grant a Commission, he (Mr. Lawson) should ask for a Return of the markets and market rights in the Metropolis in terms similar to those which his hon. Friend had adopted with regard to the municipal boroughs of the country. He complained that in the Return which had been presented to the House only in a few cases had owners given that information which they were required to do. That was not the case in small places only. In Sheffield, for instance, the Duke of Norfolk declined to state by what authority he levied his dues, the gross amount received, and the accommodation he gave for the terms received. But seldom in the case of these municipal boroughs, and hardly ever in the local government districts and rural sanitary districts, was it that the private owners had provided any sort of accommodation for trade in return for the dues they received. They seemed to think they had done their duty in taking their money, and they did not return one penny in the form of capital expenditure. Corporations were almost as bad in some cases. A particular case was that of Walsall, where not only did the Corporation not provide any accommodation, but farmed out the rights to an individual. In the Return presented to Parliament there were very few admissions that markets were held in the open street, for when a thoroughfare bulged a little from the parallel lines it was claimed as a market "place." He alluded to the open street markets in London, over which no one claimed any rights to levy tolls—Hampstead Road, Leather Lane, and the New Cut—and stated there was nothing like uniformity or equality in the levying of tolls throughout the country. It was chaos and confusion from beginning to end. Bath, which had a population of 53,700, had a revenue of £1,051; Exeter, with a population of 47,184, a revenue of £2,518; Cambridge, with a population of 47,150, a revenue of £965, with £522 more from the Corn Exchange; and Swansea, with a population of 50,000, a revenue of £4,000. Three of these towns were in agricultural districts, and the tax upon the people must be a sore incubus on the trade of the localities, and a heavy drag on the resources of the inhabitants. He would ask hon. Members to look into the nature of the powers enjoyed by the City under their charter. Outside the City there were only three markets to which any importance could be attached—Spitalfields, Covent Garden, and the Borough—and, as showing the revenues reaped by the City from their markets, he mentioned that the City Chamberlain's accounts in 1881 put down the gross receipts from the City markets as £150,000. In reference to them, there was the Report of the Commission of 1854, recommending that the charter of the City giving power over these markets should be revoked. He strongly urged the creation of new markets for greater London, on which demand there had been much cry from the platform and much talk in the Press. He maintained that the City Corporation had done everything in its power to obstruct the establishment of markets outside its own boundaries, and that it was impossible to say how much the action of the City Corporation had enhanced the price of food, limited its supply, and in some cases deteriorated its quality. In other capitals markets were in central places where food could be easily distributed to teeming populations, and. why should London wait? He believed if a Royal Commission were appointed it would give greater facilities to the trade of the country, and increase the real means of living to the great masses of the people. In the Metropolitan Board of Works Money Bill of 1881 power was given to the Board to inquire into this matter, and to present Bills; but he believed the Board had never taken any advantage of the powers conferred upon them. He considered that the public representative authority should acquire and retain the rights which at present vested in private individuals under definite conditions for the public welfare. He referred to the virtual blocking up of a fine thoroughfare at Spitalfields in consequence of market rights claimed. The whole question showed how the rights of private and public persons came into collision, and furnished one more argument in proof of the necessity for appointing a Commission. Public markets should be the markets of the public.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying; Her Majesty to appoint a Royal Commission to inquire as to the extent to which market rights, and rights affecting places where markets are held, are in the hands (1) of public bodies, and (2) of private persons, or bodies of persons. To inquire generally how such rights are exercised, and particularly what accommodation is given in return for charges levied; in what ratio market tolls stand to the value of goods on which they are levied, and how far the regulation of markets by means of bye-laws or otherwise, market rents, stallages, and tolls, and tolls affecting market towns, are restrictive of trade. To report as to the advisability of compelling the transfer of all such rights to local authorities; of prohibiting the farming of tolls and stallages, of prohibiting the placing of restrictions on the sale of goods in a market that may be lawfully sold elsewhere, of providing by means of the incomes from markets or otherwise for the extinction of the capital account chargeable to such markets, and for declaring all markets to be free and open,"—(My. Bradlaugh,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

MR. HANBURY (Preston)

said, the facts laid before them by the hon. Member for Northampton could not but make a deep impression. This was not a Party question, and if the hon. Member went to a Division he should vote with him. Hitherto in this country we had thought solely of production; but there was another important question coming up in connection with food supply, which was as important, and that was distribution. When trade was increasing by leaps and bounds we did not ask whether there were too many middlemen; but things were different now. The question of distribution was particularly im- portant in regard to perishable food. There were now great growing populations in the Provinces to which the hon. Member had referred; but he wished particularly to deal with London. Taking the case of London, how did the markets stand as to vegetable? It was a strange fact that more than half of London was supplied by carts from the districts bordering round London. If they proposed to establish new markets connected with the railways the monopolists of the existing markets would bring their rights into play. He could not see that, under the Motion of the hon. Member, any injury would be done to the rights of property. There were many cases in which no property existed at all, and in which it would be found that rates and tolls were levied without any legal rights. But even where rights did exist it was fairly open to consideration whether the conditions on which the franchises were granted had been fulfilled, and whether the duties which attached to the property were being discharged. The Committee on the Spitalfields Market Bill had before them a gentleman who had made that question a special study—Mr. Stuart Moore—and he held that the holders of the charters were trustees for the public. If they failed in their trust, if they took too much toll, if they did not protect the public, the Crown could step in and the rights granted under a charter could be declared to be forfeited. It was necessary to see what the conditions and duties were in each case, and in many cases it would be found, he believed, that, although the rights had a legal existence, the conditions were not fulfilled. One of the purposes of the charters, undoubtedly, was to preserve and promote free competition; but in London the effect was to maintain "rings," which kept up the price of food. The franchises were granted in some cases for one day a-week; but the exclusive right was claimed for every day of the week. The original duties included generally the administration of justice and the maintenance of the police of the markets; but now these duties were performed at the public cost. Another duty was to keep the markets clean; but this was neglected, and scandalously so, at Covent Garden. When most of these charters were granted, the policy was to limit the expansion of London, the popula- tion of which was then very small; and the vast increase in the population had created an entirely different condition of things. With reference to Spitalfields Market, the hon. Member for West St. Pancras (Mr. Lawson) had been rather too severe on the City of London. During the inquiry by the Committee, he (Mr. Hanbury) was struck by the extreme fairness with which the Corporation had guarded its rights. Its sole object appeared to have been to preserve a free and open market. The market was in a crowded district, and under the charter, which was 200 years old, the owner claimed a right to prevent anyone starting a market for the wholesale disposal of vegetables within an area of 6 2–3 miles, and also to prevent an overflow market in any of the streets within that area. These rights the owner positively claimed to exercise up to this day. The Committee was asked to establish a market at a distance of three miles, and the owner of Spitalfields Market quoted the charter to prevent this being done, and if the new scheme had not been backed by wealthy supporters the additional market would not have been established. It had been decided by the House of Lords that the Spitalfields charter was valid as against the public, but not as against the City of London. It was doubtful what the market rights were—whether they extended to vegetables, or included fish. The owner was acting under two charters—one of Charles II., applying to two days a-week, and another of James II., applying to three days a-week; but the latter charter was found to be worthless. He believed it would be found that there were many charters of that kind. Here, then, was a charter for two days a-week, under which a monopoly was maintained on all days of the week. The owner admitted that he made differential charges as between one customer and another. He also claimed the right to prevent anyone setting up a rival market under the Common Law; and similar rights were set up in the Provinces. It would not by any means meet the necessities of the case if the Government were to say they would give to municipal corporations the power to purchase these rights, for there were many market towns without corporations, and with local authorities who should not be in- vested with these powers. He was not willing to grant monopolies to municipal corporations, and would rather see free trade in markets. He thought it would be to the interests of the owners of some of these market rights to have them thoroughly looked into by a Committee upstairs, so that definite principles might be laid down for the future as to the way in which these franchises should be dealt with. When the Islington Market Act was passed compensation was granted, but it was refused on the establishment of the Columbia market by Lady Burdett-Coutts. Parliament granted that market in the face of the franchise, without compensation. In 1882 the Riverside Fish Market Bill was passed by the House of Lords and compensation was granted to the owners of the existing franchise; but when the Bill came down to the House of Commons compensation was refused on the ground that there was plenty of room in London for these markets. He contended that it would be very much in the interests of the owners of this class of property that this matter should be thoroughly gone into, so that they might have their rights put upon a well-established principle. He hoped the hon. Member for Northampton would not be satisfied with any concession by the Government which merely proposed to vest these rights in municipal corporations. Rather than that, he hoped he would go to a Division, so that the whole subject might be well threshed out, and that they might have some fixed principle laid down in reference to it. In the interests of property itself he hoped that the Government would have no hesitation in granting the Commission asked for.

MR. MUNDELLA (Sheffield, Brightside)

said, that it would not be necessary for him to detain the House at any length after the able speeches of the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) and the other hon. Members who had preceded him. He believed if all the hon. Members present were to rise in turn and express their opinions there would be only one opinion amongst them as to the importance of the question before the House. There was no question of more importance to the producer, as well as to the consumer, of this country than the question of distribution of the products of the country. There were towns and districts where the price of agricultural and garden produce was as high as it was simply because there were deficient means of distribution, and as we were likely to be more and more dependent on petty culture—certainly more than formerly—it was important that the produce should be brought within reach of the consumer with the greatest facility, and at as little cost as possible. He hoped, therefore, that his right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board (Mr. Ritchie) would rise in his place and concede the Commission asked for by the hon. Member for Northampton. It need not be a large or an expensive Commission, but a Committee of the House would not be of much use, because they could not bring before a Committee the poor consumer or the poor producer, who were the real sufferers. When he (Mr. Mundella) was at the Board of Trade many cases of hardship in reference to these market tolls were brought before him. Was it not a striking thing that in the constituency which he represented, with a population of 300,000, the markets should be entirely in private hands? There was certainly this to be said for the Duke of Norfolk, that he did provide markets, but he declined to give a return of the authority under which he held his market rights, or of the gross receipts or other matters in which he thought they ought to have information. He knew there had been some negotiations for the purchase of his market rights, but the price offered was thought to be insufficient, and the result was that the markets for that great community of Sheffield were left in the hands of a private owner. He did not say that the Government were bound to accept the reference of the hon. Gentleman, or that they should adopt the exact words of his Motion; but there were many questions raised by the Motion that the Government must inquire into, such as "in what ratio market tolls stand to the value of goods on which they are levied." Then it was most important that the question should be considered as to how far such markets should be declared free and open. He contended that in the interests of the producer and the consumer the more the principle of free sale in all the markets of the country was extended the better it would be for the public. He had had cases brought before him at the Board of Trade, where tolls were levied on goods that had come no nearer a market than the railway station. That acted like the French octroi duty, as a deterrent to the bringing of produce to a place where this was possible. In conclusion, he would again express his earnest hope that the Government would grant the Royal Commission asked for.


said, he entirely concurred in the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Mundella) as to the able and clear manner in which the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had brought the matter before the House. In fact, the Government had no reason to take exception to the way in which the matter had been introduced. He also fully agreed that it was not a Party question. He conceived that any proposition which had for its object the cheapening of the food of the people, and especially that of the poorer portions, should not be regarded, and in no way should be dealt with, as more property belonging to and to be settled by any one Party in that House. The Government desired to promote, by all just means, the free exchange of the commodities of the country. Notwithstanding the fact that almost all the markets in the municipal boroughs in England and Wales were in the hands of Corporations, hon. Gentlemen had complained that, even in that case, tolls were levied which were were not defensible, and which interfered very greatly with the free exchange of commodities. Whether that was so or not, one thing was certain—namely, that for ultimate action in this matter, they must look to local authorities; and the Government were of opinion that the solution of the question was to be brought about in that direction. The Government thought that these markets ought to be in the hands of popularly-elected Bodies, who would administer the trusts placed in their hands for the benefit of the community at large, and not for the benefit of individuals. He was bound to say that the Government believed that the hon. Gentleman had made out a primâ facie case for some inquiry; and if the Government could see their way to satisfy the requirements of the case by recommending the House to appoint a Committee they would prefer that course. But, after careful consideration, they thought that an adequate inquiry could not be made by means of a Committee; therefore the Government were prepared to assent to the Royal Commission. He was bound to say that there were some points in the Terms of Reference, which had not been so carefully scrutinized as it was essential they should be, where amendment was necessary; but the hon. Member might rest assured that if he took the action which the Government would recommend him to take, he would find no indisposition on their part to arrange such Terms of Reference as would meet all the requirements of the case. He would suggest that the Motion should be negatived; that the hon. Member should confer with him with the view of arranging some other Terms of Reference; and that the amended Terms, with the Motion, should be put upon the Notice Paper subsequently, and agreed to by the Government.


said, he would accept the pledge of the Government, and he did so in the same spirit it had been given. Of course, the proposal would apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. He would consent to have the Motion negatived, subject to the arrangement as to Terms of Reference.

Question put, and agreed to. Main Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."