HC Deb 05 June 1815 vol 31 cc614-6

On the motion for the second reading of the Thames Bathing Bill,

Mr. Bathurst

wished the committee on this Bill to be fixed for Thursday, on which day he should propose a clause to limit the operation of the Bill.

Mr. Wynn

observed, that the object of the Bill was to restore to the public the advantage of bathing in the river Thames, of which they had been deprived by a clause introduced into the Thames Police Bill, at a late period of the last session, which left a discretionary power to the magistrates, of which they had availed themselves, by prohibiting persons from bathing on the shores of the river Thames, from Blackwall to Battersea-bridge, under a penalty of 20s. As this was a most injurious encroachment on the comfort of the lower classes, there being at common law sufficient remedy against public indecency, if any such were complained of, he thought the Bill should be allowed to pass in its present state, to put the law upon its old footing.

Mr. Bathurst

thought that some power of summary punishment, by fine, should be given against offenders against decency, as the common-law remedy was expensive, and the punishment severe.

Mr. Wilberforce

observed, that the Bill before the House would go to sanction the indecency frequently committed on the banks of the Thames, and would be a declaration of Parliament that it was expedient that persons should expose their naked bodies on the banks of the Thames.

Mr. Horner

said, the hon. gentleman had committed a pious fraud in his statement of the case, because the Bill would merely declare, that it was inexpedient to make a provision to prevent all bathing between the West India docks and Battersea, there being already a law against any indecent exposure of the person, either in the Thames or elsewhere, which had been exerted against one of the most celebrated wits of Charles the second's court, sir Charles Sedley. Nothing, he thought, should be left to the discretion of the magistrates on this subject.

Mr. Wynn

observed, that the country had gone on extremely well under the old law on this subject; and if decent females who look the water were annoyed, it was better they should stay at home than that the health of all the lower classes of the metropolis should suffer for the accommodation of their delicacy, Queen Elizabeth, with her maids of honour, used to go from Whitehall to Greenwich, or to Richmond, in barges, and the archbishop of Canterbury to pass in a barge to attend his duty in parliament, at times when the practice of bathing in the Thames was more common than at present. Besides, the Police Act had no provision against persons undressing or exposing themselves, so it was not with an intention to bathe.

Sir J. Newport

said, if bathing was prohibited in the Thames, a similar law must be passed with reference to every other river in the United Kingdom, as it would be unjust to legislate for one place without extending the benefit of the same legislation to others. Thus the inhabitants of Dublin, Liverpool, Bristol, and other great towns must be subject to similar laws.

Mr. Wrottesley

thought that the clause ought to be repealed, as it had been introduced without any notice.

Mr. Preston

thought that the House would be more nice than wise, if they were to legislate on such a subject.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, that with regard to Dublin, to which a right hon. baronet had alluded, he apprehended it would not be very necessary to pass any law for prohibiting bathing in that city, as he understood the river Liffey, which flowed through it, was not of that pellucid nature which would afford many inducements to such amusements. He did not consider the antiquity of the practice of bathing in the Thames as an argument for its continuance. If this was once admitted, many other practices might obtain, which would be injurious to the peace of the metropolis, but which had been abandoned for years. It was only a few days since he dined with a gentleman who had shot snipes and woodcocks in St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. However correct that amusement might have been formerly, he did not consider that it ought to be permitted at present.

The Bill was read a second time, and ordered to be committed on Thursday.

Mr. Bathurst

moved that the committee have power to amend the Thames Police Act. He thought it would be proper to revive the provisions as to bathing, somewhat modified; one reason for which was, that the want of deference in the lower classes towards the higher, which had increased so much of late years, rendered some alteration in the law necessary.

The House divided: For the motion, 21; Against it, 15: Majority, 6.