HC Deb 27 February 1833 vol 15 cc1188-91
Mr. Andrew Johnston

presented a Pe tition from Richmond, Surrey, praying for the enactment of some new law for the better observance of the Sabbath. He had nothing at present to say on the subject of the petition, but he hoped it would not be understood, that when he and those who acted with him were calling for the enactment of laws for the more strict observance of the Sabbath, they contemplated infringing in the slightest degree upon the innocent amusements of the people, particularly those enjoyed by the poorer classes on the Sunday. On the contrary, it was to protect them; and to afford them the opportunity of indulging more effectually in them, that he and others supported the prayer of the petition. He hoped, therefore, that the public would see the thing in this its proper light; and when he and those who acted with him called for an amendment in the law, would not tax them with any desire to infringe upon the harmless recreation of the Sabbath.

Mr. O'Connell

would beg to trespass for one moment on the patience of the House. Those gentlemen who were taking the most prominent part in the present requisition for an alteration of the law on that subject, had explained to him, satisfactorily, their objects; and these exactly conformed with those which the hon. Gentleman had stated. They did not wish, they said, to interfere with the afternoon innocent recreations of the Sunday; but solely to do away with the tyranny by which individuals who followed certain trades on that day, endeavoured to compel, even against their consciences, persons in their employment to commit a violation of the Sabbath. The prayer of the petition had, therefore, his humble and most strenuous concurrence.

Mr. Cobbett

said, that in this question the interests of the poor man were totally overlooked. Almost every poor man in the country who had a garden, employed Sunday morning—the only time he could spare from the labours of the week—in its cultivation. Would that be made a crime by the contemplated enactment? Divers things must be done of a Sunday in the country as well as in town; the farming servant must obey his master, when the crop depends upon his labours, of a Sunday, perhaps, as well as the servant in the city must obey his. Would this obedience be made a crime; or would he who required it be rendered a delinquent? It was otherwise in America; and if it were not, society would be quite unsettled.

Mr. Wilks

could not agree with the hon. member for Oldham in the principles he had laid down. In consequence of the farmers not paying their labourers till late of a Saturday night, these had to come to the towns adjacent to their dwellings to purchase most of those articles necessary to their existence for the ensuing day. The towns were therefore crowded. After they had made all their purchases, they adjourned to the alehouses, and spent the surplus in drink and debauchery. In consequence, these towns exhibited scenes of profligacy every Sunday almost unparalleled.

An Hon. Member

asked what good it would do to give unreclaimed portions of land to the poor, as had been successfully done in many parts of England, if they did not work them after hours? This met the hon. member for Oldham's assertion of the necessity of working of a Sunday morning. Besides, in most cases, this ground was given by the parochial authorities on the express condition that it should not be worked on the Sabbath; yet, even on those conditions, it was a boon which the poor man eagerly sought, and through which he prospered.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

had no wish at that time to enter on any defence of the principle on which the petition presented by him was founded. He would only say, that those hon. Members who had made such extraordinary remarks as he had heard, did not take such pains with the subject as he had taken. He would also add, that if they waited for a few days, the whole measure would be then before the House, and they could discuss it at length and at leisure.

Captain Elliot having presented a petition from the inhabitants of Kelso on the same subject,

Mr. Cobbett

again addressed the House. He thought the law as it now stood quite sufficient for all useful purposes. He was quite satisfied no law could be passed to interfere between master and servant which would not lead to confusion which never would be at an end. If a law were to be made by which servants should not be employed on Sundays, would a cook not immediately say to her mistress that she would not cook the dinner for Sunday? It was said that the measure was to prevent masters working men-servants on Sundays; such a system would be perfectly nugatory, unless it went into private families. Were gentlemen backward in employing their coachmen, their grooms, and their footmen on Sundays? Why, these were a set of workmen who laboured very hard, in Hyde-park, for instance. They were well dressed up, and looked very fine with their gold-headed canes, but he would be bound to say, that if they had their choice, they would much rather be at home with the maids. If the House were to legislate between ladies and their maids, there would soon be such a system of legislation introduced in this country as had never been heard of in any country.

Mr. Hodgson

thought the hon. member for Oldham was entering too soon upon the nature of the proposed measure. If a measure was to be introduced for the better observance of the Sabbath, it ought to have general support. Before the House condemned a proposed measure of this sort, they ought, in the first place, to know its exact nature. When it should be introduced, it should have his best attention, and he thought it might be so framed as not unnecessarily to interfere between master and servant, so as to prevent the proper recreation of the latter.

Petition to lie on the Table.