HC Deb 03 June 1835 vol 28 cc503-8

Mr. Poulter moved the re-consideration of the Report on the "Sabbath Observance Bill."

Mr. Ward

was sorry to be obliged to oppose the hon. Member on a subject in which he had taken so much interest; but he was totally averse from that mode of Sunday legislation. The Bill now proposed, would only apply to one class, the Sunday traders; and he objected to such partial legislation. The other day the hon. Member for Wigton (Sir A. Agnew), proposed to place restrictions on travelling by the railway on Sunday. Now, he thought such a system of legislation improper, because it was partial and unjust. Why should one class be bound by restrictions, which did not affect others? Again, he was opposed to the principle of Sabbath legislation. Why should hon. Members wish to impose upon others their own views of religious duty? Let them keep the Sabbath as they pleased, but let them not seek to deprive the lower classes of that innocent recreation which they were entitled to, merely because they happened to think it improper. He was convinced no good would result from such a course. The experiment had been tried in Spain; and the principle of restrictive legislation on religious subjects, was there supported by the terror of the Inquisition: and its history in that country he thought afforded a wholesome lesson to its advocates in this. Some years ago orders were issued there that all persons should attend the mass. Now, mark the consequences. Some persons possessed themselves of all the communion tickets that they could procure, and then at the festivals of the Church, they sold the tickets to communicants, and thus made a traffic of the holiest rites of religion. Now, he thought; that legislation of that kind would have as bad effects in this country. He, therefore, moved that "The further consideration of the Report be deferred to that day six months."

Mr. Curteis

rose to second the Amendment of his hon. Friend, the Member for St. Alban's. It was rather hard that Gentlemen who came from the northern division of the country (where the Sabbath was kept much stricter than it was in the southern) should seek to enforce their mode of observing it on the people of England. He, therefore, was convinced that he was conscientiously serving the best interests of the country, by opposing that, and all future measures of the kind, and he cordially seconded the Motion of his hon. Friend.

Mr. Poulter

From the commencement of the last Session this Bill has been most unfairly dealt with. It has been the invariable course of hon. Members to saddle it with objections on points wholly unconnected with it. I have not attempted to press on this House any particular or special views of my own. I have watched the cause of the failure of all those Bills which have been rejected by both Houses on this subject. I have endeavoured to ascertain the opinion which prevails in this House, as well as in every part of the country, and to embody these sentiments in a short, modified, and simple enactment; and have confined myself solely and exclusively to the subject of common Sunday trading, which in various places is extensively prevalent throughout the country; and I have a right to say, that the view I have taken meets the wishes of both the masters and journeymen, as well as the real interests of the lower classes of the people. The numerous petitions which have been presented on the subject within the last two years show that great anxiety prevails upon it; 2,000 have been presented since the commencement of the former Session, signed, I believe, by 200,000 petitioners; and this feeling has only partially subsided now, because it is generally believed that this very modified measure will be allowed to pass this House. It has been said that the law for the observance of the Sabbath is obsolete and extinct, which, in my opinion, is a very incorrect statement, because it is impossible to visit any part of this town on Sunday, without seeing decided symptoms of the operation of the Statute of Charles II. in conjunction with the good religious feeling of the community. I can perceive, in the partial opening of the confectioners' shops, the equitable operation of the third section of that Act; and I need only further mention to this House that there has been no Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench, from the time of Lord Mansfield to the present time, who has not had to give judgment upon some part of this law. It has also been said that this Bill will make a trade to informers: this I deny; the moderate penalty attached to the breach of the law, which in no case exceeds 10s. will prevent this. It is remarkable that the Statute of Charles only gives the magistrates a discretionary power of awarding one-third of that small and moderate penalty to the informer, and I defy him to make a trade out of that. I have received letters informing me that my penalties are not sufficient—that I should make them 5l, or 10l.; but my wish is, to avoid giving any encouragement to the informer. The Bill is founded upon the principles of moderation; it is for the purpose of affording to the poor people of this country one day of rest and repose; and I consider that I have a right to call upon any man who considers himself a friend to the education of the lower class of the people to support a moderate measure such as this is, a Bill which does not impose any severe restrictions upon them, but gives them a free enjoyment of that day, which they do not now possess. I presented a petition to the House a few days ago, signed by a large number of persons engaged in the fish trade; the petitioners assured the House that they were actuated by no extreme opinions, but that the day of the Lord was a day of greater work to them than any other day, and for which they received no compensation; and this they considered to be a state of slavery, from which they called upon the House to emancipate them. With such a strong case as I think I have to bring before the House, I trust that hon. Members will give me their support. I never would have presented the Bill unless I had been satisfied that it would create no species of distress whatever to any class of the community. I am no advocate of illiberal opinions—I have nothing extreme in my religious views—I am no advocate for extreme views; on the contrary, I always oppose them. On this principle I opposed the Bill of the hon. Member for Wigton-shire; but I must confess I have received from him a very different kind of conduct from that which I pursued towards him, for he has shown a perfect absence of personal feeling, notwithstanding the warm manner in which I opposed his Bill, and has in the kindest manner given mine that support which I trust I shall continue to receive from him. I hope, therefore, that I shall now succeed in carrying this Bill through the House.

Sir Samuel Whalley

said, he had supported the second reading of the Bill certainly for its moderation; but he was of opinion that there were some parts which either did not go far enough, or which went too far: and it seemed to him that altogether the Bill did not protect the poor man, but deprived him of those relaxations to which he was entitled. The Bill only "protected" the tradespeople. Work might be going on all the while with the doors closed: but if the poor man went out of his house, he was met at every turn by the restrictive provisions of the Bill. He thought, therefore, that it did not effect its object, that it was too astringent, and, therefore, he should vote against it.

Mr. Goulburn

could not agree in considering that the desecration of the Sabbath should be a privilege, or that the man should consider himself ill-used who was prevented from profaning it. All that the hon. Gentleman asked of the House now was, to fulfil what he (Mr. Goulburn) understood was its intention on a former occasion, to allow him to bring in a Bill not obnoxious in principle, and which would be open to the suggestions of hon. Members, as to matters of detail.

Sir R. Bateson

supported the Bill. The hon. Member for Sussex (Mr. Curteis) had asked why Prebysterian Members should ask the House to compel the people of this country, to observe the Sabbath, after their ideas. His answer was, that Episcopalians and Presbyterians, were equally bound, in a religious view, in keeping the Sabbath holy: and he would tell that hon. Member, that the former were quite as much disposed to do so, as the latter. With regard to the Bill as it then stood, he wondered that any Gentleman could get up to oppose it: it seemed to him to be on every case beneficial, or at least innoccuous.

Colonel Sibthorp

opposed the Bill, because it prohibited the Sabbath enjoyments of the poor, and protected those of the rich.

Mr. Arthur Trevor

agreed with the hon. and gallant Officer, the Member for Lincoln (Colonel Sibthorp.) In fact it was a subject very difficult to legislate upon. It had always appeared to him, that it was unwise to pass any measure which interfered with the recreation of the working classes, upon that only day on which they could enjoy it. Upon any question on which the good of the nation was concerned, legislation might have the best effects: but on that discussion, it seemed to him that, as the hon. Member for Marylebone had said, it was possible to go too far, and, at the same time, not far enough. In the Bill there were some things of very great importance entirely left out; and others, comparatively trivial, inserted. It appeared to him a very great hardship that a poor man might not, on the Sabbath, drink his glass of beer, or wine, or spirits, if he liked; it was an invasion, scarcely justifiable, upon the amusements and recreations of the working classes, and the Bill did not legislate upon matters much more important, and which came nearer to the profanation of the Sabbath. But as the hon. Member would, no doubt, take that into his consideration, he (Mr. Trevor) should certainly, as in common justice, vote for its re-committal.

Mr. H. Bulwer

opposed the Bill.

Lord Morpeth

had not heard anything said to induce him to think it unadvisable that the Bill should at least be re-committed, and he hoped the House, which had agreed to the principle, would suffer that.

Mr. Roebuck

asked if cook-shops and milk-shops, were included in the Bill?

Mr. Poulter

said, they were not included in the Statute of Charles.

Mr. Warburton

did not see why public houses, in which spirits were sold, should be allowed on the Sabbath, while beer-shops were not; nor why newspaper-shops should be allowed. He saw no necessity for legislating upon the subject, for there was no evidence that the country had retrograded in the observance of the Sabbath.

Mr. Baines

said, he did not approve of the Bill as it then stood, but he should vote for its re-committal.

Mr. Jervis

would vote against the Bill: he was convinced that it would never operate, but would be quite nugatory: referring, as it did, to the Statute of Charles, one would be obliged constantly to look at that Act, and, instead of a small pamphlet, every man would be under the necessity of carrying a folio volume in his pocket, to ascertain what was therein excepted by the provisions of the Bill, He would also affirm, that the Bill, if it did operate, would be exceedingly oppressive.

Sir Andrew Agnew

said, it was curious to see the difference of opinion which prevailed upon the subject; some saying the Bill did not go far enough, and others that it went too far. Of course everything that went to establish the former conclusion, was, of course, music to his ears. The hon. Member for St. Alban's (Mr. Ward) had wondered that he should propose so many different measures; the reason was, that he meant to go on, by little and little, till at last he had brought the House round to some conclusive measure; as he was convinced that if not the majority in that House, the majority of the people were with him.

Mr. Wakley

said, the Bill left the poor man without any protection whatever, and prevented him from indulging in any innocent recreations and enjoyments. Even if the Bill were to pass, it would be wholly inoperative. It prohibited "every act of trading in open shop." Now, what did the hon. Member mean by the phrase "open shop?" a shop with the door open? ["No" from Mr. Poulter.] Nothing was more easy than to say "No:" but what would the Magistrate say when the parties were brought before him? If the door were open, the tradesman would be prosecuted: so that it appeared the act of vending was to be secret, and not open. He opposed the Bill, in hopes that the hon. Member would at least bring in a Bill which should be plainly understood by all parties concerned.

The House divided on the original Motion: Ayes 43; Noes 54—Majority 11.

Bill postponed for six months.

List of the Ayes.
Agnew, Sir A. Hardy, J.
Alsager, Captain Maxwell, J.
Baines, E. Ingham, R.
Balfour, Thomas Johnston, A.
Baring, F. Johnstone, J. H.
Bethell, A. Kearsley, J. H.
Bewes, T. Martin, J.
Brocklehurst, J. Morpeth, Lord
Brodie, T. B. North, F.
Chapman, A. Perceval, Colonel
Clerk, Sir G. Phillips, C. M. S.
Collier, G. Plumptre, J. P.
Crewe, Sir G. Price, G.
Dillwyn, L. W. Pringle, A.
Finch, G. Richards, J.
Forbes, W. Sibthorp, Colonel
Forster, C. S. Strickland, Sir G.
Freshfield, J. W. Stewart, J.
Goring, H. D. Trevor, A.
Verney, Sir H. Young, J.
Williams, A. TELLERS.
Wilmot, Sir Eardley Poulter, J.
Young, G. P. Pryme, G.
Paired off.
Bateson, Sir R. Nagle, Sir R.