HC Deb 01 March 1833 vol 16 cc5-10
Mr. Littleton

presented three Petitions from certain Inhabitants of London, and two from Derby, expressing their satisfaction at the Report of the Committee on the subject last Sessions, and praying for the enactment of a law to enforce the better Observance of the Sabbath. He would not then enter at length into the question; but he would observe that, in his own opinion, moral force would be quite sufficient to effect the object of the Petitioners. In the county which he represented, the Magistrates passed Resolutions a few years ago, calling on masters to pay their men on some other day, so as to do away with the necessity of dealing on the Sabbath; and although that had not been done to such an extent as could have been wished, still where it had been done, great benefit had resulted. He generally employed from 100 to 200 labourers, and he paid them on a Tuesday, a plan which he found prevented much of the dissipation and drunkenness that were occasioned by paying men on Saturday night. If gentlemen generally would use the influence they possessed in their own immediate districts, to put a stop to the present system, he was sure they would very soon see the most beneficial result. However, he would not be understood as opposed to the enactment of a law on the subject. In making these remarks, he had only endeavoured to show how far the necessity of such a law might be obviated by the force of moral agency.

Mr. Wilks

thought other means than legal ones should be resorted to for the purpose of enforcing the better observance of the Sabbath. He thanked the hon. member for Stafford for the valuable communication—the result of his personal experience, which he had made to the House on the subject; and for the satisfactory proof he had in so far given of the little necessity of laws for the purpose.

Petition laid on the Table.

Mr. Hill

presented a Petition from Kingston-upon-Hull, praying for a due Observance of the Sabbath, He was happy to hear from the hon. Gentleman who intended to introduce a Bill on the subject, that there was no intention to interfere with the recreation of the lower classes on Sundays. The great difficulty, however, which the hon. Member would have to contend with, was to shape the law so as not to create feelings of hostility between the rich and poor. He trusted the hon. Member would do his best to get rid of that difficulty, as he would then promise him his most cordial support.

Mr. Cobbett

remarked that there was a considerable disposition on the part of many hon. Members in that House to remove the disabilities under which the Jews laboured. When this bill, however, for promoting the better observance of the Sabbath, should have passed the House—should it so pass—it would be necessary to have some other bill respecting the observance of the Sabbath by the Jews. Their Sabbath was on the Saturday—ours was on the Sunday; so that there must either be some change of their religion on being admitted within the pale of the Constitution, as it was called, or of ours. Now he, for one, was not disposed to change his religion, and he supposed they were as little disposed to change theirs. Well, then, there must be another law about the Sabbath beyond that now contemplated. What he had risen for, however, was to notice what the hon. Member had said about the lower orders—the lower orders. Now, he would be glad to know what was meant by that phrase. The clergy told them that all men were equal in the eyes of the Lord; that all men came out of the hands of the same Maker; and that all alike would have to give an account of themselves to him. What, then, did the hon. Member mean by the lower orders? If he meant that some were greatly and grievously oppressed by heavy and unjust taxation, while others almost wholly escaped, then he admitted that the former might with some propriety be denominated the lower classes; but if the hon. Member did not mean that, he was not justified in speaking of the labouring classes as the lower orders. He would never sit in that House and hear the industrious classes characterised as the lower orders.

Sir Charles Burrell

said, the hon. member for Oldham was always speaking of the disposition of the rich to oppress the poor. He denied that there was any such disposition—he denied, too, that the rich escaped the pressure of taxation. He was certainly not very rich, but he knew for himself, and he believed it was the same with the hon. member for Oldham, that he paid his proportion of taxation, and he knew of no persons who escaped. What, he asked were the Poor-rates, and the House-tax, and the other numerous taxes that fell upon landed property? He denied, again, the rich escaped taxation. [Mr. Cobbett had never said the rich escaped taxation.] He would be glad to know, then, who they were that, according to the hon. member for Oldham, escaped taxation? Did he mean the fundholders? He (Sir C. Burrell) denied that they unjustly escaped. They had lent their money to the State, and they had as much right to be repaid as would the hon. member for Oldham had he lent money on mortgage. Indeed, the fallacies of the hon. Member were so gross and palpable, that they almost carried their own refutation. Night after night they had heard from the hon. Member that the rich had no feeling for the poor. He must deny that state- ment. He had been at a meeting last week, when what were called the rich had come forward most liberally in support of the poor; and amongst those were noblemen, merchants, and a great many clergymen, both of the Church of England and Dissenters. He knew of a clergyman who had sent 1l. to Alderman Atkins, to be distributed among the distressed, stating at the same time that he had just sent a son out into the world, and he never did so without giving a donation to the poor. There were in that House many most hon. Gentlemen, in fact there were three or four then present, who bore most honourable characters, whose grandfathers belonged to that class of the community alluded to as the poor. However, there was another class of men in the community, who had made their fortune by exciting the poorer classes against all those from whom they got their living. If any such should find their way into that House, they ought to be spurned.

Mr. Hutt

said, that he had been requested to support the prayer of the petition, which he did with the greatest pleasure. He was most anxious and desirous to see the Sabbath, which ought to be a day of rest for all classes, properly and religiously observed throughout the country. The poor and industrious classes, who toiled throughout the week, were justly entitled to enjoy that day as a day of rest from their labours; but he thought the laws at present in existence were quite sufficient for punishing the desecration of that day.

An Hon. Member

said, he had a very great respect for all classes of the community who conducted themselves properly. Though he did not entertain a very high respect for the political opinions of the hon. member for Oldham, yet for that hon. Gentleman's knowledge of the English language he had a very high respect, and he would feel most particularly obliged to him if he would point out, or give them another term, in place of that which had displeased him—"lower orders."

Mr. Ruthven

said, that upon no subject more than the one now under discussion should the term "the lower orders" be kept out of view. In the eye of the Almighty there was no difference between the poorest of the people and the Monarch on the Throne. No Member of that House felt a greater desire to promote the due and religious observance of the Sabbath than he felt. The proper observance of that day, a day which ought to be set apart for rest and the exercise of religious feeling, harmonized all classes, and tended, in an eminent degree, to make men better members of society. With reference to the prayer of the petition itself, he must confess, that he felt a great objection to harsh and severe laws, compelling the proper observance of that day being enforced. They ought to observe the sacredness of that day with religious feelings, which no law could create, however severe such a law might be. He would call upon the clergy throughout the empire to set a good example to their flocks, and to show that religion had had a good effect upon those who professed to practise it, and that they (the clergy), by their preaching and living, might prove its good effects upon themselves. He was sorry to be obliged to state to the House that the clergy, by their conduct, had set a very different example from what they ought, and from what was expected from them; he might truly say, an example which was unworthy to be followed.

Mr. Wilks

confessed himself a strong advocate for the strict observance of the Sabbath, and therefore he most cordially gave the petition his support.

An Hon. Member

said, he had heard a great many strange arguments on this subject. It had been said, among other statements, that it was vain to introduce any Statute-law on the observance of the Sabbath at all. If this was to be carried to the full extent of the argument, it could mean neither more nor less than to say that all law might be dispensed with together. This could not be a doctrine very likely to meet with the support of the House or the public.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

was anxious to say a few words on this very important subject, particularly as he had been intrusted to support a petition from his own part of the country very much to the effect of the one which had just been presented. No man could be more desirous than himself that the Sabbath should, in all respects, be duly observed; but it was his candid opinion, that it could not be made to be more sacredly observed by any legislative Act whatever. If an individual had not a proper sense of what was due to his Creator, so as to induce him to abstain from worldly pursuits and other unchristian vocations on the Sabbath Day, no legislative enactment would render him more attentive to his duties as a Christian. He agreed with what had fallen from the hon. member for Oldham in one respect, and in one respect only—namely, that if any legislative act were to be passed for the better observance of the Sabbath, it ought to be directed against all classes. It would be a most improper interference on the part of Parliament to enact for one class of society a Statute for the observance of the Sabbath, leaving another class exempt. He would suggest to hon. Members who had thought on this subject, and he gave them as much credit as he took to himself for a real inclination to observe the Sabbath, that a most effectual way to inculcate a proper and regular observance of the Sabbath was by those who filled high places setting an example which must have its proper influence on other classes. The example of the higher and richer classes would have a great effect in inculcating upon other classes of society the proper observance of the Sabbath, and a much greater observance than any other course that could be thought of. There was an old Act, still in existence, to compel every poor man to make himself decent before he went to church on Sunday. But there was another Act which prohibited barbers from shaving on a Sunday. The latter, however, was generally considered to be so absurd, that it was never enforced. It was well known that a poor man could not have an opportunity on Saturday evening of making himself fit to attend at a place of worship on a Sunday morning, and why there should be a law to prevent him doing it on Sunday morning it was difficult to conceive. He doubted exceedingly the efficacy of any law that could be passed in effecting the object in question.

Petition laid on the Table.