HC Deb 02 June 1908 vol 189 cc1807-13

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said that they ought to have some explanation of this Bill. So far as he understood it, the Bill provided that a rural district council might, with the consent of the Local Government Board, exercise any powers which a district council could do now in regard to establishing markets in a market hall or in the streets. He did not think that a rural district council should have power with the consent of the Local Government Board to do that which an urban district council could only do with the consent of the owners and ratepayers. He thought that in these days, when the rates were constantly increasing and when they all knew that people were carried away with the desire to have everything perfect in their district, while the money was to be found by other people, they were sometimes inclined to be more extravagant than was necessary. If he was correct in thinking that the clause was not very clear as to the necessity for obtaining the consent of the owners and ratepayers, would the President of the Local Government Board consent to an Amendment being inserted at the Committee stage to remedy that? If that were done any objection he had to the Bill would disappear.


said that this was a Departmental Bill, and he would like the President of the Local Government Board to explain the necessity for it. As had been pointed out by the hon. Baronet, the Bill would expose rural ratepayers to very considerable expense, and some explanation should be given of what abuses existed or what danger to public health was likely to arise which necessitated the measure.


said that the object of the Bill was to enable rural district councils to establish markets under almost the same conditions as town councils and urban district councils now had the power to do under the Public Health Act of 1875. Under Clause 166 of that Act town councils and urban district councils might provide a market place, construct a market house, acquire land and levy tolls for carrying on the market in their area. The town council could only do that by a three-fourths vote, and the urban district council must get the consent of the owners and ratepayers of the district before the market could be instituted. No direct powers existed which gave rural district councils the same power of acquiring land, borrowing money on a small scale, and instituting markets and regulating the markets after being instituted. Section 276 of the Public Health Act, however, enabled the Local Government Board to invest the rural district council with the powers which an urban district council now enjoyed; but it had been found impracticable to give the rural district council the power as to markets, because Section 166 of the Public Health Act was inapplicable to rural district councils and areas, and there was no machinery for getting in the rural districts the consent of the owners and ratepayers as was the case with urban district councils. Apart from that, it would probably be necessary to get consent of the owners and ratepayers of the whole district when the market was only required for a particular parish. What the Bill did was to substitute for the consent of the owners and ratepayers the consent of the Local Government Board, which would secure the interests of everybody. The hon. Member for South Antrim asked what was the necessity for the Bill. It was because in certain parts of the country the custom was, and in many cases the right was to hold markets on streets and squares of the villages and in small towns under conditions that very frequently led to insanitation, amounting at times to a nuisance. Rural district councils were under their present limited powers unable to spend money where it was the custom to hold markets or fairs, on paving the market place, forming gullies and keeping them clean and in a sanitary condition. It was in order to enable them to do all this that the Bill had been introduced. Representations in favour of the Bill had been made to the Local Government Board by the Board of Agriculture and by Members interested in the agricultural districts. It was said, quite truly, that it was not fair to have animals of all kinds on the streets and the market places unless the animals could be kept clean and in an advantageous condition to the people who sold them instead of being a nuisance to the villagers.

MR. RAWLINSON (Cambridge University)

said that as he understood the Bill it apparently gave absolute power for the first time to a rural authority, without the consent of any ratepayer, but simply with the consent of the Local Government Board, to do a thing which urban authorities or town councils could not do without the consent of the ratepayers, viz., establish markets, which entailed not only building halls, but paving streets, and giving the power to charge rents for storage and for stallage. Where a market already existed and was run by a company as some of these country markets were, this Bill for the first time gave the rural district power to buy up the market company and gave the market company power to sell to the rural district council.


said the hon. Member would find that Section 166, to which he had referred, provided that in the establishment of any market no rights, powers, or privileges of any person were to be interfered with without his consent.


said there were two totally distinct powers, one which gave the rural district council power to erect markets where they did not exist, without the consent of the ratepayers, and to exact rents and tolls from anybody who came in to sell their produce, and the other which gave them power where a market already existed, to buy that market without the consent of the ratepayers. The point he wished to make clear to the House was that this Bill gave a considerable extension of powers to the rural district council to act without the. authority of the ratepayers.

MR. RENDALL (Gloucestershire, Thornbury)

said his friend was making a mountain out of a mole hill. This Bill only referred to two or three small towns in the country, which were under the control of rural district councils.


said he would be obliged if the hon. Member would point out how the Bill was limited to two or three small towns. Every small town or village could under this Bill have markets established in them without their consent.


said the Bill applied to every rural district in the country.


admitted that that was so, but said it was not very likely that markets would be established at this time of day where they did not already exist. It only applied to such towns as Thornbury in Gloucestershire, and Axminster in Devonshire. For instance, in Thornbury there was a small market square used for the buying and selling of cattle. The collection of those cattle in that place was extremely inconvenient to the people. He had himself addressed meetings in that market place, and the cattle straying among the people caused a great deal of inconvenience. Then there was the more serious sanitary grievance which would be got rid of if this Bill was passed into law. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman for now having taken in hand this Bill, which was the result of a long agitation by three or four small places, and he hoped the House would assent to [the Bill being read a second time so that the long-delayed promise of the Local Government Board might be carried out.

MR. COURTHOPE (Sussex, Rye)

expressed the hope that his hon. friends would not persist in their opposition to this Bill. It would probably not apply to many places, yet it would certainly meat an agricultural want. It was supported unanimously by the agricultural, community on that ground, The various agricultural societies had-been most sympathetic in the matter, and for his part he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not only secure the Second Reading but would be successful in placing the Bill upon the Statute-book


said the speech of the President of the Local Government Board had been so conciliatory that, had the matter been left there, it would have been difficult for anyone to oppose this measure. But, fortunately, the hon. Member for the Thornbury Division had explained the true reason for the Bill, and had shown that it could be used in a most tyrannous manner. The country might be overtaxed and nobody knew what expenditure would be incurred. The Local Government Board was to be the only authority to be consulted, and, if that body consented, the people were to be rated for a market which was only wanted by a few fussy individuals. It was a most serious innovation. If it was clearly shown that people required a market, by all means let them have it, but let the right hon. Gentleman leave in the Bill the words, "with the consent of the ratepayers." Let the House consider for a moment what might occur. An election might take place in one of these districts without any particular issue having been raised. Some individuals might be successful in getting on to the council and in blarneying their colleagues into the idea that they ought to have a market; that it would cost the people nothing, that the landlord would have to pay the rate. But the members of the council had not any authority from their constituents to vote for such a proposal, yet under this Bill they would be able to carry it. The rural district council could set up an entirely new market, whether it was required or not. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would limit that provision by accepting in Committee the words: "with the consent of the ratepayers." He himself wanted to see people live in country districts and not be drawn into the towns and the only way that that could be encouraged was by showing the people that they had full authority to govern the district in which they lived. There was no limit whatsoever to the rate which might be imposed for this market, no conditions were put down as to whether the people or the owners of property were to be consulted; everything was to be done by the Local Government Board in London, which was to decide as to the requirements of a locality, governed by the votes of a chance majority on the rural district council. There should be inserted in the Bill a specific provision that the ratepayers should be consulted and their consent obtained before such expenditure was incurred. From how many districts had complaints been made? The only complaint that had come was from Thornbury.


said he also mentioned Axminster in Devonshire.


said in that case it was perfectly clear that the Bill had been introduced on behalf of two rural district councils of England. Who could possibly say there was any desire for these markets? Where such markets were set up expense would be incurred by those who used them. There were a number of rural districts where the people living in the country came to the small towns and other places, where people congregated to sell their poultry and their butter and their produce generally without let or hindrance or inconvenience to the community. If these markets were set up these people would have to pay the rent or toll of the market. If the provision was inserted that the consent of the people must be obtained before these markets were set up the grievance of which he complained would be removed. Supposing markets did not at present exist, were they to be created? Were the district council to decide that they would buy the land and then just get the approval of the President of the Local Government Board whether the owners of the place or the inhabitants wished it or not? The right hon. Gentleman did not appreciate how far-reaching the Bill could be in inflicting great hardship on the people in a locality. The only safeguard which would secure fair play was that the ratepayers should be consulted. Here was a Radical Government, calling itself democratic, whose every single transaction was bureaucratic, and who did everything but trust the people. He was a Tory and a democrat, and he would trust the people to say whether they thought this thing should be done or not. They had had a promise that the Bill should not be sent upstairs, but discussed in the House of Commons, and he hoped there would be an Amendment put in providing that the consent of the ratepayers should be secured before either any market was bought or any steps taken to provide a market in a locality.

Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.—(Mr. John Burns.)