HC Deb 24 May 1898 vol 58 cc620-4

"Page 11, after clause 24, insert the following clause:

"The power conferred by section one hundred and four of the Public Health Act, 1878, upon an urban authority to purchase a market from a market company shall extend to authorise the purchase from any person of any franchise or right to hold a market or fair, whether under Act, letters patent, or otherwise, and the said section shall apply accordingly, with the necessary modifications."—(Mr. Gerald Balfour.)

MR. W. REDMOND (Clare, E.)

This clause deals with very much the same matters as are dealt with in a clause put down later in the Bill by the honourable Member for Monaghan. As far as it goes, this clause is satisfactory, but in my opinion it should be made compulsory to a certain extent. To authorise the purchase from any person of any franchise or right to bold a market or fair is a very good provision, but I do not think it will be at all operative unless compulsory powers are given to urban district councils to take over those tolls and custom rights. With regard to the town of Ennis, which I represent, the tolls from fairs and markets are vested in and collected by Lord Leconfield for his sole benefit; but he gives no contribution whatever towards the expenses necessarily incurred in keeping the town in a sanitary condition, nor does he own any property in the town whatever; and it does seem in this age rather an extraordinary thing that under old letters patent, granted in the reign of James II., he should enjoy such a right as this. What I think the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary should do would be to give the district council's compulsory powers to purchase these rights for whatever they may be worth from gentlemen like Lord Leconfield, and to vest them in the representatives of the district councils. Money might be advanced on easy terms, and fair compensation given. I do not desire to delay the Committee, but this is a point on which great interest is felt in the town of Ennis, and at the suggestion of the Ennis Commissioners, I once put a question on this subject. The first clause undoubtedly goes some way towards meeting the suggestion of the Commissioners of Ennis, and the wishes of other towns, but I do not think it will amount to much, unless some compulsory powers are given.


I desire to support the, suggestion of my honourable Friend the Member for Clare. There is a town in my own neighbourhood, the circumstances of which are very much the same as those of Ennis, and the town commissioners requested me to place on the Paper an Amendment dealing with this matter. This I did before Easter, but you, Sir, ruled it out of order at that stage, and therefore I put it down as a new clause. I myself think that the urban councils are the proper authorities to have the control and management of fairs and markets, but I fear that an arrangement could hardly be carried out unless these powers of compulsory purchase are granted to them—purchase, say, by arbitration at a fair and reasonable price. I would also suggest to the right honourable Gentleman the desirability of including town halls in this clause, if he can see his way to do it. In my clause I suggested that the council of any urban district should be entitled to acquire any existing town hall by arbitration; and I would suggest an Amendment to this clause to the effect that an urban authority shall be entitled to acquire any existing town hall on terms to be fixed by arbitration, or, if the right honourable Gentleman does not agree to that, any form of words to the same effect which he cares to accept. I might mention that there are towns in Ireland in which these town halls are private property. They are not the majority of cases—most of the towns own their halls; but there are cases in which the town halls are private property, and in which the town commissioners have really no power even to hold their meetings without permission. In my own constituency of East Cork, in the town of Middleton, the town hall belongs to a local landlord, and the town commissioners have not even the power to hold meetings there without the permission of that landlord. I venture to think that if the right honourable Gentleman could see his way to include town halls within the scope of this clause, it would relieve a legitimate grievance, and would place all Irish towns on an equality in this particular respect. I sincerely hope the right honourable Gentleman will consider this.


The Government have carefully considered those points, and we do not think it is advisable in this clause to give compulsory powers for the purchase of markets and fair grounds. There is nothing to prevent a town from purchasing a town hall. Of course, they have not got compulsory powers to acquire land, but there ought to be no serious difficulty in the way of purchasing town halls if they desired to do so.


Under the existing state of things the management of the live stock business is not at all satisfactory, and I think the result of this appeal will be to strengthen the hands of the right honourable Gentleman. Otherwise this change cannot be satisfactorily carried out.


I recognise what the Chief Secretary has said, and it is undoubtedly an attempt by the Government to meet the case put forward in the Amendment that stands in the name of the honourable Gentleman the Member for Monaghan. If the urban district councils do not gain possession of those rights over the markets and fairs, I hope that later on the Government will see the advisability of transferring those rights to the representative councils in whom they should be vested.


I desire to call the attention of the right honourable Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the matter which I brought before him in the form of a question to-day, and in this case, at all events, he ought to see his way to relieve the city of Kilkenny of that burden and give them the right to manage their own affairs. He can relieve us of those amounts, and he ought to allow the city of Kilkenny to hold what fairs they please and when they please, because the Treasury does nothing to assist those fairs.

MR. MURNAGHAN (Tyrone, Mid)

With regard to this question, it is one which, has been agitating the public mind for a considerable time, and it is at present very unsatisfactory. Already the commissioners have practically had all the powers which the Government could give them, and they have not met the requirements in the way that they should be met. The fact of the matter is that the monopolists get possession of these markets and fairs, and they make no improvements. They do nothing for the benefit of the market towns, with the result that the farm produce is diverted into other channels and the markets die. Wherever these old towns have not the facilities to take care of their own markets and their fairs, they, of course, are neglected, and they suffer accordingly. Now this question has been inquired into by three different Royal Commissions since 1853, and it has therefore been considered a matter of public interest. A Royal Commission has reported that where these matters are in the hands of private individuals and monopolists, invariably the interests of the market towns are sacrificed to the interests of private enterprise. Therefore I do think that the Government ought to reconsider this matter before they come to a final decision, because it is a very serious thing for some of the towns which are hampered in this way. We have pot the markets now in such a condition that it is impossible to get the business done there which ought to be done in any kind of way that is at all practical. For instance, there is no proper entrance. If the weather is wet they are exposed to the inclemency of the weather. I do think these are matters which ought to be in the hands of the local authorities and not in the hands of local monopolists, who desire nothing but to reap rich rewards and big profits. We feel that this is a state of things that ought not to be, considering that it has so long been a matter of consideration by various Royal Commissions, and invariably their reports have been that abuses, extortions, and illegalities have been practised in places where the fairs and markets were under the control of private individuals or monopolists. When the town authorities have had charge of these matters they are managed more to the benefit of the towns than when private individuals control them, and I hope and trust that the Government will see their way to make some proposal by which these markets will be acquired by arbitration and settled.


I sympathise with honourable Members in their desire to endeavour to obtain control of the markets, but that would not be advisable unless they could obtain them at a fair price. I think this clause goes a considerable distance, but if you give compulsory powers to the towns to buy the markets mentioned they would be apt to pay too much for those markets, and instead of producing good it might be an evil. I know of one town where the commissioners got power to buy the gasworks, but the gas company wanted too much money, and the commissioners did not buy them. In the same town they got the offer of the markets, but they would not buy because they thought the price was ton much and they would, not derive a sufficient revenue for their money. I think, if you gave them power to buy the markets, in nine cases out of ten, if they were proper financiers, they would not buy.

Clause read a second time, and added to the Bill.

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