HC Deb 01 June 1815 vol 31 cc568-70
Mr. Wynn

, in pursuance of his notice, rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill for repealing a clause in the Thames Police Act prohibiting persons from bathing in the river Thames, from the East India Docks to Battersea-bridge, after the hour of seven, o'clock in the morning, and before the close of day. He observed that, upon reading over the Bill in question, he was never so much surprised as in meeting this clause, for, from the code of the Bill, it appeared to be an Act "for the more effectual prevention of depredations on the river Thames." There was not one word stated about bathing, nor did he believe the House in general were at all aware that it contained such a clause as that to which he referred. This Bill was introduced to the House on the 21st of July last, at the close of the session; it had never been printed, and, in fact, its contents were little, if at all known. The clause in question, and which he trusted the House would agree with him in repealing, gave to the magistrates appointed to superintend the police of the Thames, a power to issue notices, forbidding persons to bathe within the hours and the district which he had mentioned, and to fine any individuals who should be found offending against such orders. He apprehended, that by the common law of the land, any indecent exposure of a man's person, whether on land or water, was a punishable offence; and consequently it was not necessary, merely for the purpose of preventing such a practice, that any new law should be enacted. He knew not, indeed, upon what principle the House could be called upon to deprive the community at large of a comfort, which he considered bathing to be, so long as it could be enjoyed without inconvenience to the public. The practice was, in fact, in this great metropolis, essential to the preservation of health; and for his own part, he felt more satisfaction in witnessing such amusements than in any other, because the persons who were participating in them, were attaining a knowledge which might operate not alone as a safeguard against danger to themselves, but as a safeguard for the lives of their fellow-citizens, who might not have acquired the same art. He would ask, were the Westminster boys, who had hitherto enjoyed this recreation without comment, and who were to be seen throughout the summer stripping on the banks of the Thames, to be stopped all at once from this source of health? In foreign countries, so important was the art of swimming considered, that schools were established for its encouragement; and its usefulness was so manifest, that any gentleman who for one moment considered the subject, would, he was sure, agree with him in thinking the clause in question, which had nothing in the world to do with the Bill into which it had been introduced, ought to be repealed. It appeared to him that this was one of those melancholy evils which resulted from an itch for legislating which prevailed in the subordinate offices of the State. The hon. gentleman concluded by moving, "for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal so much of the Thames Police Act as relates to the Bathing in the Thames."

Mr. Addington

said, it was not his intention to oppose the motion; but he begged leave to say a few words, explaining the reason upon which the clause had been introduced into the Bill. Several applications had, from time to time, been made to the office in which he had the honour to act, by persons in a most respectable rank in life, complaining of this custom of bathing having lately been carried on in divers parts of the river side to such a height, that it had become an absolute nuisance and annoyance not only to their individual families, but to the public. These applications had induced him to give a sanction to the clause, not to prohibit bathing, as the hon. gentleman had represented, but to give discretionary power to magistrates to punish indecency, carried to the height which had been complained of, by giving notice that in any places where persons were guilty of a nuisance in the act of bathing, they would be punished. He did not, however, object to the motion.

Mr. Wynn

said the notices were general, and extended from Blackwall to Battersea.

Sir John Newport

objected to arming the magistrates of the city with such a power as the present law gave them. He knew not why persons were to be deprived of the exercise of an amusement so salutary as that which had been alluded to by his hon. friend, and had only to lament that the Bill in question had been introduced into the House at such a period of the session as deprived the members of the opportunity of giving it due consideration.

Mr. Harvey

said, he would not oppose, the motion in its present stage; but as he lived in the neighbourhood of the Thames, he had an opportunity of witnessing the disgraceful scenes which were presented to the public, and which, in his estimation, loudly called for the interference of the Legislature. Some measure was certainly necessary to correct this evil; and he trusted, if the hon. gentleman proposed to repeal one clause, he would suggest another, which would at least secure the public from a repetition of the nuisance to which he had alluded.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill.