HC Deb 16 May 1833 vol 17 cc1325-37

On the Order of the Day being read for the second reading of the Lord's Day Observance Bill,

Sir Andrew Agnew

said, that he should wish at that late hour, to postpone the discussion on this subject till Friday se'nnight.

Mr. Warburton

would, in that case, propose, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read this day six months.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, he had never known an instance of a measure being got rid of in the way in which the hon. member for Bridport proposed to get rid of the present. He did not envy the hon. Member, as his only object must be to stifle discussion, It was inconsistent with the common courtesy of the House, that an Amendment of such a nature should be made when an hon. Member proposed to postpone a Motion merely for the convenience of the House. The Amendment was, as far as he knew, perfectly unprecedented, perhaps the hon. Member might be able to supply an instance of the kind; but he knew of none. He hoped the hon. Member would not press his Motion to a division.

Lord Althorp

said, it was obvious, from the petitions, that the measure of the hon. Baronet was agreeable to a great proportion of the people, though it might not be altogether popular. He thought, therefore, that at so late an hour it ought to be postponed, and he hoped that the hon. member for Bridport would not persevere in his Amendment.

Mr. Warburton

said, he could not see that there was any inconvenience in proceeding to the debate at half-past eleven o'clock. If they were to proceed in such a course as that it would be impossible ever to get through the business of the Session. His reason for proposing the Amendment was, not in order to stifle the discussion; but, because he considered that the hon. Baronet, in postponing his Motion, was consulting his own convenience, rather than that of the House.

Sir Andrew Agnew

in obedience to the call of the House to go on, then proceeded, and observed that he did not come forward as a volunteer in this matter. On the former occasion, he had not fully explained his measure, which had done it some injustice. The idea of the Bill had not originated with himself, but with a number of humble individuals, tradesmen in the metropolis and elsewhere. There was no provision in it which had not; been prayed for by the parties to whom it was applicable. It was emphatically a Bill to prevent all manner of work on the Lord's Day, in order that every man might be free to keep it holy. He was anxious that the Mouse should believe that all its provisions were agreeable to the great majority of tradesmen themselves. It consequently did not dictate how the Sabbath was to be employed, but it forbade a man from employing other men on that day for profit or pleasure. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

Mr. Plumptre

had great satisfaction in supporting the Bill, conformable as it was to the wishes of so numerous a body of his constituents and others; and trusted that the House would, at least, allow it to go into a Committee, where it might receive any modifications that should seem desirable. There were three classes of people to whom the Bill would be beneficial; two immediately, and one indirectly. The first was the large class of persons to whom the Sabbath was a day of bodily rest; a class not to be discarded from the attention of the House, even if the Bill had no other object in view. Another class that would be immediately affected by the Bill was that composed of persons who did not so much require the Sabbath for bodily rest, as for receiving religious instruction, and discharging religious duties. He trusted that that class would not be lightly considered by the House. They knew that there was a world beyond the grave, and were anxious to obey the commands of their heavenly Master. The third class, which would be indirectly affected by the Bill, consisted of persons whose feelings and desires ought not to be outraged; and who thought that the profanation of the Sabbath was a national disgrace, and must lead to national calamity; and that, as Christians, they could not tolerate the profanation of that holy day, without incurring the divine displeasure. An objection that had been made to the Bill was, that it was not right suddenly to check any habits which had been long established. That might be true with respect to some things; but were the habits which the Bill intended to check such as ought to be allowed to continue? Ought they not, rather, to elevate their habits to the will of God, than impiously endeavour to bring down the will of God to their habits? The idea of compelling men to be religious never entered into the heads of the framers of the Bill. They knew that compulsory service could not be acceptable to the Deity. They did not wish, therefore, to force men to be religious; all they wanted was, to give all his Majesty's subjects an opportunity of being so if they chose to embrace it; of the want of which thousands now complained, and not to withhold from them the inestimable privileges which a benevolent Creator designed for them.

Mr. Poulter

said, that the Bill would do neither more nor less than hand over all classes of society to the mercy of common informers. For instance, it was now a frequent practice for men, on a Sunday, between the two services, to go to a news-room for a short time to read the papers. What could be more innocent? Yet, by the Bill, a penalty of 50l. was imposed upon the keeper of any newsroom who opened it on Sunday. Again, a penalty of 10l. was imposed by the Bill upon any person who hired, or any person who let out, a horse on Sunday. If, therefore, a gentleman were travelling on Sunday (which certainly was not proper) with four horses, at every stage he might incur a penalty of 40l.; nay, he (Mr. Poulter) was not sure that he would not be liable to a double penalty at each stage, or 80l. The Bill rested on the erroneous principle of making the original law respecting the Sabbath delivered to the Jews, the rule of Christian observance. If the Jews had violated their Sabbath, they would have been subjected to the most severe visitations of Providence. But the Christian religion was less rigid. There was an instance under the Jewish law of a man having been put to death for picking sticks on the Sabbath. Jesus Christ required no such strictness. The fourth Commandment was no Statute to us. He was quite willing to set apart a day for the solemn worship of God, and that that worship should be accompanied by becoming sanctity; but he must protest against compulsory regulations, opposed to the sentiments and liberties of a large portion of society. He wished to see the hearts and the affections of the people improved; he did not wish to see them exposed to onerous penalties.

Mr. Roebuck

trusted the House would at once reject the Bill; the very preamble of which called upon the House to declare, that men were commanded by the Lord to respect the Sabbath Day; an assertion in which many conscientious people were quite unable to concur. AU introduction of tests of that kind was to be deprecated. He highly approved of the object of securing a day of recreation and quiet for the great mass of the population; but he as highly disapproved of the discord which the Bill was calculated to introduce into the country. He had read with great pleasure a pamphlet, by a dignitary of the Church, the object of which was to endeavour to break down unimportant religious distinctions, and to make all Christians brethren. The tendency of this Bill, on the contrary, would be further to divide and narrow sects; and to set up the means of discord among the people. What he desired was, that the people should have rest and refreshment on the seventh day. Let them look at the Bill, and see if it kept that object in view. It set out with observing, that all work ought to be prohibited on the Sabbath day. The only exclusion was, "the man servant and the maid servant;" so that although the hon. Baronet took the Jewish law as the foundation of the measure, he departed from that law in this essential particular. He was sure that those hon. Members could not have read the Bill who were not inclined at once to reject it. He would read only one of its enactments, and from that the House would see the spirit of the measure. It ran as follows;—"And be it further enacted, that every one who shall be present at any meeting, assembly, or concourse of people, upon any part of the Lord's Day, for any purpose of gaming, wagering, or betting, or for any wake, fair, baiting, or hunting any animal, cock-fighting, dog-fighting, or shooting, or any pastime of public indecorum, inconvenience, or nuisance." Now, let the House fancy a whole community obliged to agree with what any Magistrate might think proper to understand by the words, "public indecorum, inconvenience, or nuisance!" The enactment proceeded—"or for public debating upon or discussing any subject"—surely it was difficult to conceive any mode of passing a day more unobjectionably than in calm and rational discussion—"or for public lecture, address, or speech, or who shall be present at any news-room, or club-room, shall forfeit for the first offence any sum not less than 5s., nor more than 10s.; for the second offence, not less than 10s., nor more than 20s.; and for every subsequent offence, not less than 20s., nor more than 5l." So no man was to be allowed to ask a neighbour the news, or go to a room and quietly read the papers without incurring a penalty of from 5s. to 5l. A penalty of 50l. was likewise to be imposed upon the keeper of any news-room who opened it on Sunday. All the common conveniences of life, all social intercourse of human beings with one another on Sundays, was interdicted by the Bill. Nay, more than that. It was well known, that persons confined in towns were frequently compelled to breathe a fetid and unwholesome atmosphere; and that many of those persons could not go to a distance which would enable them to breathe fresh air, without hiring horses for that purpose. He, himself, was compelled to be in London six days out of the seven. He was an invalid; but by this Bill he should be incapacitated from breathing fresh air on the seventh day. If, indeed, he were so rich as to have a carriage of his own, he might repair to the environs of the town; but, as it was, if the Bill were to pass, he must breathe the noxious air of the metropolis on the seventh, as well as on the other days of the week. To him that would be a great evil; and was not that the feeling of the great majority of the middle and lower classes? One provision of the Bill was to shut up baking-houses on Sundays. The consequence would be, that every poor man's wife must dress his meat for dinner; while, at present, she was allowed to spend the day in peace and quiet; and a small number of persons performed that necessary labour. By this enactment, therefore, labour on the Sunday would be multiplied a hundred-fold. Females, of all persons, ought to be exempted from labour on the Sunday, and should take that recreation which was calculated to restore them, and fit them for the toil of the approaching week. But this Bill would prevent them from doing so. He had gone last Sunday down to Greenwich, on purpose to see how the population of the metropolis amused themselves on that day. Nothing could be a more pleasing sight, or more consonant to every good feeling. The people came out for air; they were walking quietly in the Park; enjoying the pure atmosphere, breaking no commandment, and violating no law. He would oppose the hon. Baronet on religious grounds, and tell him that true religion was not so cold and narrow a system as he represented it to be. God required no such painful and absurd sacrifices as his Bill would impose on the people. The Almighty required, that we should perform our duties to one another, without one particle of asceticism. By this Bill, one set of people, having peculiar ideas respecting a particular day, wished to compel all other persons to conform to their creed, and to worship God after their manner.

Lord Morpeth

doubted the possibility of carrying into effect the various provisions of so complicated a Bill, though he acknowledged the propriety of its principle. He should vote for the second reading, in the hope that it would receive in the Committee all the modifications requisite for making it a useful and desirable enactment.

Mr. Estcourt

concurred in the principle of the Bill, but thought that beneficial alterations might be made in it. No one could deny that it was desirable to keep the shops shut on the Sabbath.

Lord Althorp

believed there was no man in that House who would quarrel with the principle of the Bill; but the details were in his opinion of so extraordinary a character, that he considered they could not depart from the usual parliamentary course of opposing it at once. Nothing in fact could be done with the Bill, but what would lead to the introduction of some new measure. The Bill could not be so altered as to retain anything like its present form. For his own part, he was most anxious to support any measure which would in practice be one of protection to those who desired to keep the Sabbath as a day of rest, and not of coercion to those who did not. But this was a Bill of Pains and Penalties—uncalled for and impolitic—not desired by the public, and not deserved by them; and he could not do otherwise than oppose it in its present stage. He wished for a measure, not to compel men to be religious, but to allow and enable them to be so. It was neither consistent with religion, with morality, nor with sound policy, to interfere with the old recreations of the people. Nothing would be more unfair, impolitic, or uncalled for. He really believed that the Sabbath Day was, after all, now better observed in these realms, than it had been for the last thirty years; but he was willing, from regard to those who were interested in such points—especially the tradesmen of large towns, to forward any measure which would really be one of protection, but he could not consent to a Bill, the details of which could not be worked into any other form than to impose unjust restrictions, and unmerited penalties.

Sir Robert Inglis

did not deem it right in Government to throw the whole weight of their influence against the Bill. Without attaching undue importance to the prayers of the people, he would wish the House to remember that this was a question on which the people of England had shown a strong and decided feeling. Without yielding their judgment, or acting on any question without the most deliberate conviction, he must say, that any subject was deserving of anxious and attentive consideration which was borne to them on the prayers of 230,000 persons. He was happy that he could agree with the noble Lord, in the opinion that, during the last thirty years, there had been a great improvement in the manner of observing the Sabbath. But was that improvement not less than might have been expected from the increased means of religious instruction, which above all other countries, we had so eminently, during that interval, possessed? The Lord's Day in this country was observed in a manner superior to that in which it was kept in any country of Europe—Scotland excepted; so much so, indeed, that foreigners constantly complained of our strictness. But the question for consideration was, whether our observance was such as it ought to be, according to the commands of Scripture? Let them remember also, the cries of those petitioners who had asked our interference on a ground which no Legislature could rightly reject—that of protection. Was the hon. and learned member for Bath aware, that no less than 7,400 journeymen bakers had petitioned the House of Commons to enable them to observe the Sabbath? Whether it were right or not to grant their prayer, it was fitting that the Legislature should consider it well. Some of those who petitioned, might be influenced by worldly motives—but it could not be questioned that many were actuated by the purest and most sacred feelings—regarding the Sabbath as a divine institution, which they ought to observe. Some- thing; was due to both these classes; and the Bill contemplated nothing—so far at least as he could understand it; except matters of trading, travelling, and labouring on the Sabbath. There were several points respecting the meetings of municipal bodies, &c., on the Lord's Day; but those were unimportant compared with the provisions which he had mentioned. Was there anything in the principle of the Bill, as applied to these three provisions, to which the noble Lord could refuse his assent? He might refuse it as to the degree in which they were applied; but was he prepared to withhold it generally from the questions of limiting labour; closing shops, and preventing travelling for hire, on Sunday? The subject was attended with difficulty, in respect to interference with the amusements of the poor; and it was true that legislative enactments might press harder on the poor man than on the rich. But that arose from the nature of things; it was impossible to prevent either from doing what he pleased in his own house; but there was no such prohibition in this Bill. It did not apply to the poor man in his own house; it followed him to the public house—to the place where those scenes were acted which violated every law of decency, and morality. It improved the present law with respect to public-houses and beer-shops; and interfered with the resort to those places at particular hours of the day. Among the petitions presented to the House was one from his constituents—presented by his hon. friend and Colleague—in which the petitioners stated that they believed it to be the bounden duty of every Christian country to provide for the religious observance of the Lord's Day; and that the existing laws were insufficient to secure the attainment of that object. In the evidence given before the Committee on this subject, which sat last year, several gentlemen—police Magistrates and others—connected with the administration of justice stated, that the laws were inoperative—that they had, in fact, become a mere nullity; so much so, that persons had been known to offer to pay the fine for keeping their shops open at the beginning of the day. They said, "We will not give you the trouble of fining us; here is the amount of the fine, and we will keep our shops open, and violate the laws." Could the noble Lord justify such a state of things as this? If the noble Lord, therefore, would not pledge himself and his Majesty's Government to the introduction of a Bill which would at least repress such practices, he was not justified in calling on the House to resist this Bill, and in refusing his ascent to its principle, solely because he objected to the provisions by which it was proposed to carry the principle into effect. He could assure the noble Lord, that he would best consult the interests of the Government, and the wishes of the people, by allowing the Bill to go into Committee.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

said, he would oppose the present measure, because he considered it a Bill of pains and penalties, and not calculated to secure the better observance of the Sabbath, or conduce to the interests of religion.

Mr. Lefroy

considered they ought not to hesitate in going into Committee. The Bill was founded on such principles as, with a slight modification of its details, could not fail to be acceptable to a majority of that House.

Mr. Wynn

was much more disposed to trust to the gradual growth of religion, than to any new penal enactments. There was a clause, at the end of the Bill, which declared that it was not to extend to works of piety, charity, or necessity. Who was to be the judge of what constituted works of this description? Must it not be the individual who was setting out on it? If he could convince himself that a work on which he was about to engage was a work of charity or necessity—and thus feel himself at liberty to travel on a Sunday in furthering it—was it necessary for him to satisfy every innkeeper that he was really at liberty to hire post-horses? Suppose the case of an officer hastening to join his regiment—or of a child to visit a dying parent—;it would be urgent on both that they travelled without let or hindrance, and rapidly; yet they must, under this Bill, first satisfy every innkeeper, that they were engaged on a work of "necessity." To proceed as the Bill proposed, appeared to him to be acting on a novel principle of legislation. At all events, it went much too far, and he recommended that it should be withdrawn.

Mr. Robert Grant

contended, that the observance of the Sabbath was a proper object of national care. If the present Bill were thrown out, he feared the people would think that the Reformed Parliament was disposed to deny the principle of this and former enactments on the same subject. He should, therefore, vote for the second reading.

Mr. Wason

suggested, that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. If that were consented to, he would vote for the second reading, not otherwise.

Mr. Petre

could not support the second reading of the Bill, though he had voted for the first stage, unless he were assured, that in the Committee it would be very considerably altered.

Mr. Hill

hoped, that the Bill would be withdrawn, at least for the present, as he was convinced that such a measure would rather lead to the abolition of the present observance of the Sabbath than its due observance. It was, in fact, a Bill for the desecration of the Sabbath by the rich, and for the observance of it by the poor. While the chimney of the rich man might be reeking, and all his cooks employed, the poor man must be satisfied with his humble and Saturday-dressed dinner. This was not the time when the two classes ought to be brought into opposition, and least of all on such a question as the observance of the Sabbath.

Mr. Shaw

thought, that Parliament ought to legislate no further than to regulate public trading; but, although the Bill went too far, it could be sufficiently altered and improved in the Committee. It was the moral and sound sense of the country which required some enactment on the subject, and he hoped Ministers would not set themselves against all improvement in this respect.

Mr. Hardy

was of opinion, that the present laws were inadequate for the purpose, and that a Christian House of Commons ought to do something in order to cause the due observance of the Sabbath, which was instituted, not so much for the vexation of man, as for the honour of the Lord.

Mr. Rotck

regretted that the subject had been forced upon the House—he had himself been made the humble instrument of presenting various petitions, most carefully got up—he meant petitions read to every person who had signed them—and the question was, whether the prayer of 200,000 petitioners was to be disregarded? If the Bill was inefficient, where was the hon. Baronet to obtain assistance to render it efficient but in a Committee of that House? He could get no assistance elsewhere. He was beset with opposition, and, unless a person was an enthusiast, he could scarcely get such a measure through. In spite of ridicule, he would vote for the second reading.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

would only detain the House two minutes, but could not avoid saying, in answer to the hon. member for Bath, that the preamble of this Bill was copied from another on the same subject 107 years old. Bishop Porteus had said, and most truly, that the due observance of the Sabbath was the great bulwark of Christianity.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

fully concurred in the principle and many of the details of the Bill. The opposition to the measure, and the disturbance in the House indicative of impatience, proceeded from that portion of the Members who were opposed to the Protestant religion. They might well object to the due observance of the Sabbath, on which the safety of the Church mainly depended. The hon. member for Dublin, at a meeting of the Trades' Union, had told those assembled, that the Sunday ought not to be spent in gloomy gravity, which sickened the human countenance and sallowed the complexion, and that he highly approved of the manner in which the Sabbath was usually spent in England. In his own country, the hon. and learned Member said, he had witnessed with pleasure dancing, playing at ball, and other amusements. But when such were the opinions of the hon. and learned Member, and his friend, he hoped they would have no influence over a Christian assembly.

Mr. P. Howard

could support so few of the clauses of the Bill which had been introduced by the hon. Baronet, that he must vote against the second reading, though he respected the motives of those who adopted a different course. A bill should give something like an accurate and defined outline of what was afterwards to be filled up and perfected in Committee, otherwise the process of amending would be endless, and the result almost always unsatisfactory. He was disposed to take effectual means of preventing any unnecessary barter or business on the Lord's Day, especially during the hours of divine service; but must, at the same time, remark, that many of the causes which led to the more serious violations of the Sabbath could not be reached by legislation. A practice (for he would only detail one instance), existed in Manchester, and many of the larger towns, of paying the workmen their wages in the public-house, at a late hour on Saturdays. This custom, almost as a certain consequence, led to a good deal of drunkenness and profaneness on the Sunday morning; and yet, consistently with any sound notions of freedom, it was difficult, impossible, he would say, to sanction interference, and fix by law any precise time when the parties should settle their accounts. To the vast discretionary power which the Bill proposed to give to Magistrates, he (Mr. Howard) was much opposed; and it would place, not only every Magistrate, but every toll-keeper, under the painful responsibility of judging whether or no a man had a justifiable cause for travelling on Sunday. He was not inclined to go so far in measures of restriction as the hon. Member (Mr. A. Johnston) who had last addressed the House. He did not wish to find fault with a certain degree of innocent recreation on the Sunday evening; and he suspected it was in human nature, that if the people were so rigidly debarred from all reasonable enjoyment, they would resort to those more guilty pleasures, which were alike condemned by the professors of every creed.

Amendment withdrawn, and the House divided on the question, that the Bill be then read a second time: Ayes 73; Noes 79—Majority 6.

Bill thrown out.

List of the AYES.
ENGLAND. Ingham, R.
Ashley, Lord Inglis, Sir R.
Attwood, M. Jervis, J.
Bethell, R. Lamont, Captain N.
Blackstone, W. S. Lennox, Lord A.
Bolling, Wm. Mandeville, Lord
Bouverie, Hon. D. Marryat, J.
Brigstock, W. P. Marsland, Thomas
Brocklehurst, J. Morpeth, Viscount
Buller, E. Moseley, Sir O.
Buxton, T. F. Nicholl, John
Childers, J. Parker, J.
Dare, Robert Hall Pease, J.
Estcourt, T. D. Petre, Hon. E.
Evans, W. Pinney, W.
Fenton, J. Plumptre, J. P.
Finch, Geo. Pryme, G.
Foster, C. S. Rotch, Benjamin
Gaskell, J. M. Ryle, J.
Gladstone, H. E. Scott, Sir G.
Grant, Rt. Hon. Rob. Shawe, R. N.
Grey, Sir G. Sheppard, Thomas
Hardy, J. Simeon, Sir R. G.
Hawes, Benjamin Stanley, E.
Staunton, Sir G. T. Stewart, R.
Sykes, S. Wallace, R.
Wason, R.
Wilbraham, George IRELAND.
Williams, A. Bateson, Sir Robert
Willoughby, Sir H. Hayes, Sir E.
Young, G. F. Lefroy, Anthony
Lefroy, Thomas
SCOTLAND. Martin, John
Callander, J. H. Maxwell, T. W.
Fergusson, R. C. Perceval, Colonel
Hallyburton, Hon. D. G. Young, J.
Hay, Sir J. TELLERS.
Johnstone, H.
Johnstone, A. Agnew, Sir A.
Maxwell, Sir J. Shaw, F.
Maxwell, J. PAIRED OFF.
Ross, H. Todd, J. R.