HC Deb 11 March 1834 vol 22 cc54-61
Sir Andrew Agnew

then rose to move, pursuant to notice, for leave to bring in a Bill to promote the better observance of the Lord's day. As the subject was not new to the House, he should not feel it necessary to enter into any detail of the measure he sought to introduce. He regretted that after so many petitions had been presented last year, when the feeling of the country had been so unequivocally expressed, it should have devolved upon so humble an individual as himself to bring forward so important a subject. It world be almost presumption in him to dictate all that was necessary to be introduced in such a legislative provision, and he should submit a Bill containing such regulations as to him appeared desirable to the House, and then call at a subsequent stage upon the united wisdom of the House to devise the best means of successfully carrying into effect an object so much desired by so numerous a body of petitioners as had addressed the House upon the subject. He had thought it his duty so to arrange the clauses of the Bill, that hon. Members could by their votes in Committee upon it exclude such as they might deem fit, without material deterioration to the general effects to be anticipated from the measure. Without further entering more particularly into the details of the Bill he sought to introduce, he should be happy to hear any suggestions that might occur to hon. Members, but should reserve any further observations until some expression of sentiment on the subject should be afforded to the House. The hon. Baronet concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.

Mr. John P. B. Chichester

seconded the Motion, but he would not pledge himself to the support of the Bill, if its provisions were at all similar to those of the Bill introduced by the hon. Baronet last year, though, in promoting a measure for the better observance of the Sabbath, he was acting in accordance with the wishes of all his constituents.

Mr. Potter

hoped, that the hon. Baronet, the member for Wigton, in asking for leave to bring in a Bill upon this subject, did not wish the House to suppose that his present measure was anything like that which had been introduced last year. On a former occasion, the hon. Baronet had made no declaration to the House as to the provisions of the Bill, neither had he, in the present instance; and, therefore, he (Mr. Potter) had a right to assume, that no security was afforded that a similar measure would not be again brought forward. He held in his hand the Bill which had last year been submitted to the Legislature by the hon. Baronet, the very first clause of which would, by closing bakers' shops, lead, in a great many districts, to a still greater desecration of the Sabbath than at present. The former Bill also went to forbid buying or selling any commodity on a Sunday; now, he (Mr. Potter) was prepared to contend, that such traffic could not entirely be put down. At the time the Bill introduced last Session by the hon. Baronet was under discussion, he had made a point of visiting, on Sunday mornings, various parts of the City, and had ascertained that it was utterly impossible for many respectable classes otherwise to purchase the meat necessary for the consumption of themselves and their families, if they would have their food fit for that day's use. In some instances, he had followed the poor purchasers to their rooms, and he was the more satisfied that, if any meat was exposed from one day to the next to such a tainted atmosphere as pervaded many of the apartments he had visited, it would be wholly unfit for use on the following morning. The Bill then went on to declare as nuisances public lecturing, debating, or news-rooms; and next, that no vehicle should commence a journey on Sunday. These were all interferences with the rational amusements of the people, and the latter proviso would prevent the closely-confined and industrious shopkeeper of this and other cities from the enjoyment of the fresh airs of Greenwich, Richmond, Windsor, and other similar vicinities. By such an interference, the public health would suffer, and serious consequences would inevitably follow. He deplored the interference with the innocent recreations of the people five or six years ago, by putting down several of the fairs in the Metropolitan districts, and he was of opinion, that a Bill, such as had been proposed by the hon. Baronet last year, so far from promoting the advancement and best interests of religion, would be productive of a contrary effect; and he should, by his negative on the present occasion, oppose the introduction again of such a Bill into the House.

Lord Morpeth

hoped the hon. Baronet, the member for Wigton, would, in the event of the House acceding to his Motion, evince more pliability of materials, and a more distinct regard to his prospects of success, than had been exhibited in the Bill brought forward during the last Session of Parliament. He (Lord Morpeth) only acted in accordance with his own feelings, and those of a great body of his constituents, when, by his vote, he afforded the hon. Baronet an opportunity of introducing a Bill which should give to the labourer of this country that relaxation which God and man intended for him. To this point he limited his support of the Motion until he was made fully acquainted with the provisions of the measure.

Colonel Wood

said, there were several objectionable details in the hon. Baronet's Bill of last year; but, at the same time, he must say, that it was the general wish of the middling and upper classes of society that some legislative measure should be adopted by the House to ensure the better observance of the Sabbath. He was aware it was a difficult thing to legislate on such a subject. His own impression was, that a great deal more might be done by example on the part of the hon. Members of that House, than by any Act of Parliament they could pass on the sub- ject. He would, however, vote for the introduction of the Bill; and if the House were pleased to allow it to be read a first and second time, he thought the best course for the hon. Baronet would be to refer it to a Committee up-stairs, when they would be able to ascertain how the Sabbath was spent, and what parts of the Bill might admit of beneficial alteration. He would be the last man in that House to interfere unnecessarily with the amusements of the people—they needed amusements and recreations—but, at the same time, it was necessary to prevent the profanation of the Sabbath.

Sir Robert Inglis

could not but think, that though the hon. Baronet, the member for Wigton, had stated that the Bill he now sought to introduce was very much the same as that brought forward last Session; it was not regular for the hon. member for Wigan to prejudice the House against the measure by entering into a discussion of the details of the Bill already disposed of. With regard to the statement urged by the hon. member for Wigan as to Sunday baking, he must remind the hon. Member, that upwards of 7,000 journeymen bakers of the city of London had, by their petition, sought the protection of the House from Sunday trading. That protection they had a right to claim; but, as to the other points embraced by the proposed Bill—namely, the innocent recreations and amusements of the people—he thought, with the hon. and gallant Member opposite (Colonel Wood), that more could be done by example than legislation. If the proposed Bill were, in substance, anything like that introduced last year, it would only give force to enactments now in existence, though practically inoperative; but when he remembered, that the number of petitioners praying for some legislation upon this subject amounted to not less than 277,000, he should give his support to the present Motion.

Mr. Littleton

, without wishing to be understood as approving of the details of the Bill, would vote for its admission, as he conceived the law, as it at present existed for the observance of the Sabbath, required alteration. He admitted, that the example of hon. Members and others would, in such a case, have greater force than legislation. One of the greatest instances of Sabbath profanation was the markets held in so many places on the morning of that day. What, he would ask hon. Members, was the cause of those Sabbath morning markets? It arose from the circumstance of the masters of working people paying them their wages at so late an hour on the Saturday night as to render it impossible for them to purchase the articles they required until the following morning. He thought something ought to be done to get this arrangement altered. It appeared to him that another day than Saturday ought to be appointed for masters paying their workmen their wages. In several large towns in the country, masters had come to an understanding among themselves, to depart from the practice of paying their workmen on Saturdays, and the change had been attended with the best effects. He thought it his duty to say thus much, as it was only by such means as he had referred to, that relief could be afforded.

Colonel Evans

would support the present Motion, though, if the Bill, when introduced, should be found at all like that of last Session, it would meet with his most decided opposition. He concurred in the sentiment, that wages should be paid earlier in the week than Saturday, and he would suggest the propriety of some provision being introduced into the Bill against those payments being made in public-houses.

Mr. Lennard

said, that in most of the agricultural districts, the farmer had to depend upon the produce of the sale of his goods in the Saturday markets for the payment of the wages of his labourers; so that any alteration in this respect would be so far disadvantageous. There were many practical points to which the hon. Baronet who had brought forward the present Motion might turn his attention; but, if he attempted to bring in a Bill at all like that of last year, he was satisfied that it could not, by any possibility, be carried.

Mr. Warburton

said, that, since the hon. Baronet had not thought fit to give any explanation of the provisions of the Bill he now asked the permission of the Mouse to bring in, the hon. member for Wigan was, perhaps, justified in dealing as he had done with the Bill of last year. He, however, hoped the hon. member for Wigan would not divide the House at the present stage, but would allow the hon. Baronet to try his hand a second time. For one, he (Mr. Warburton) should not oppose him.

Mr. Robinson

had no objection to the introduction of the Bill, which, if it could be shown to be at all calculated to advance the interests of religion, should have his support. He should, however, watch closely that its provisions were impartial in their application to all classes of the community, and that they did not interfere with the innocent enjoyments of the labouring portion of his Majesty's subjects.

Mr. Roebuck

could not think there existed any necessity for legislation on this subject, when it could not be denied that the observance of the Sabbath was now much more decorous than at any former period. If they were now to legislate on this subject, he would ask the hon. Baronet to take care how he applied his legislation. Let the hon. Baronet take care to legislate impartially—to commence with the pastimes of the rich, and not with those of the poor man. Let him not stop the stage coach, which was the poor man's vehicle, and pass the travelling carriage of the rich man—let him, instead of stopping the omnibus, interfere with the chariot; rather than stop the steam-boats, let him lay an embargo on the pleasure-yacht, and stop the private parties of the wealthy; and instead of preventing the labourer enjoying the recreation of the open fields in the vicinity of the metropolis, let him stop up Hyde-park. If the Bill were impartial, and meant any thing, it meant this. The 500 half-choked citizens, who embarked upon a steam-boat in the river Thames, were not guilty, by 10,000 degrees, of so great a desecration of the Sabbath, as he (Mr. Roebuck) had witnessed in one day in Hyde-park. He hoped the Bill would enforce strict regulations with reference to the rich, and, if so, it should have his support.

Mr. Richards

said, the numerous petitions which had been presented during the last and present Session, manifested a strong feeling in the public mind in favour of some legislation on this subject, and the Motion should, therefore, have his support.

Mr. Aglionby

said, that, from all he had yet heard, there was no difference between the Bill of last year and that which was now sought to be introduced. He thought that, as the question had been disposed of last Session, it was too much again to ask the House to deliberate upon the same measure upon which the hon. Baronet had already failed. The House was, at least, entitled to have been in- formed of some of the details of the proposed measure, before it should consent to the Motion for leave to bring in the Bill.

Mr. Hardy

reminded the hon. Member who had just sat down, that the second reading of the Bill of last Session was only lost by a majority of six, in a House consisting of 160 Members, and that, too, at a late hour of the night, and an advanced period of the Session. That circumstance was alone amply sufficient to justify the hon. Baronet in persevering with the Bill, which he (Mr. Hardy) hoped would secure full protection to the journeymen bakers of London and every other class of artizans in the country. He should give his support to the Motion.

Mr. Pease

was the last man who could ever be induced to think that a country could be made religious by an Act of Parliament; but he had received such communications from almost every town in the county with which he was connected on this subject, that he should consider it his duty to give his best assistance towards getting the proposed Bill into Committee, where he should hope to get rid of those imperfections which the Bill of last year (and he was bound to believe the present Bill) contained, and to lead by such amendments as might appear desirable to the promotion of good order, morality, and religion, in this country. But he thought, that his hon. friend was not bound to show that this particular Bill would produce all the results hoped for. He should vote for the introduction of the Bill, reserving to himself the liberty of proposing any alterations he might think necessary when it was in Committee.

Mr. Hudson

said, the hon. Baronet opposite was called on to state whether the Bill which he had then brought before the House was the same as, or different from, that of last Session; and it was contended that he was bound to show that before the House could accede to his Motion. But the hon. Baronet was not called on to enter at large into the nature and provisions of the Bill in that stage. The real question before the House was, whether it was desirable at all to bring in a Bill for the Better Observance of the Sabbath. He thought it was. He would venture to say, that no Member would vote against the introduction of such a Bill, if he was not prepared to show that it was unnecessary. He would vote for bringing in the Bill, but would reserve to himself the privilege of voting against any of its provisions that he considered objectionable.

Mr. Fowell Buxton

hoped that the hon. Gentleman opposite was not serious in his opposition to the introduction of this Bill. There was a strong and general feeling abroad, that some improvement in the observance of the Sabbath was necessary, and if the public voice were to be regarded, the house would show, that they thought there was some room for improvement, and some necessity for legislation. In the metropolis, there were some abuses which ought to be put down, and some attention ought to be paid to the prayers of the large and respectable portion of their constituents who had addressed the House in favour of some such measure. Hon. Members had said,—and, in this particular, he fully concurred with them,—that they would set their faces against any partial legislation on this subject. But no partiality in favour of the rich against the poor was, he was sure, intended by the provisions of this Bill; and if there were any class of persons interested in the Bill, the poorer orders were the individuals, for some such enactment was peculiarly and emphatically necessary for the labouring population.

Leave was given, and the Bill was brought in; as was also a Bill to amend and explain the Act relative to the Observance of the Sabbath-day in Scotland.