HC Deb 25 March 1835 vol 27 cc233-44

Mr. Poulter moved the Order of the Day, that the Sunday Observance Bill be read a second time.

Mr. Warburton

could not see the necessity of this Bill. Looking at the habits of the people at present, and comparing them with the past, he did not perceive that they were becoming more and more irreligious, or at all the less observant of the Sabbath-day. In reviewing the acts of the Legislature of the country for the last two hundred years, he incidentally discovered that the people were less religiously disposed formerly than they were at present. By an Act of James 1st, he found that markets and fairs were prohibited from being held on the Sunday, except markets for victuals. By another act, he was not sure, but he believed of Charles 1st, he found that fairs were forbidden to be holden on a Suday, except in harvest time. Indications such as these, with various others that might be mentioned, incidentally, established the fact, that the Sabbath at present was much more rigorously kept than formerly. And if hon. Gentlemen about him would tax their recollections, he did not doubt but there were many among them who must remember, that thirty or forty years ago Sunday evenings were devoted to parties of gaiety. Sunday was the favourite day, and he had himself at that period attended where there were clergymen present, who did not appear to think it any sin to join in the singing of glees. He remembered one house in particular that he used to visit, it was the house of a very learned physician, who used to devote that evening to a conversazione; he had been often present, in company with three or four Bishops, and the conversation was of a grave and discreet kind, and the time was passed in agreeable amusement. Looking at these things he could not conceive, that it could with any fairness be asserted, that the Sabbath met with less attention than formerly; but, on the contrary, that in modern times it had met more, and more now than it did so late as thirty or forty years ago. What indications were there, that it was the public habit to desecrate the Sabbath? He could find none. With respect to the present Bill, it had been asserted, that it was different from that of last Session. It was not so far different, but it was to prevent keeping open shop and trading. Now, in an Act of Parliament, "open shop" was a loose expression. What was open shop? Why, leaving a door open might be construed into open shop, or one shutter might make it open shop, and indeed he could scarcely see what would make it keeping close shop. But under the clauses as they now stood (as clause 1), the sale of many articles were prohibited, which were absolutely necessary for the refreshment of the numerous body of the public, who, on Sundays took their only opportunity of taking recreation and exercise in the fields. He must say, that under these clauses, they would prevent the public from taking those refreshments which were necessary, to convert Sunday (as he wished them to do) into a day of innocent recreation. It was upon these grounds then that he saw great inconvenience in passing the Bill. Looking at the clauses, and seeing that they would throw impediments in the way of the manufacturing and trading public of walking from their crowded cities, and taking recreation on that day, he begged to move by way of Amendment, that the Bill be, read that day six months.

Mr. Potter

understood it had been distinctly stated by the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, that it was very different from the Bill of last year. With a slight exception he found it the same, and hoped that it would meet the fate of its predecessor. The Bill of last year underwent a great many Amendments, and this Bill could not pass without undergoing a great many more, and he submitted, that the time of the House should not be taken up by unnecessary discussions on Sabbath Bills. He wished the Gentlemen who were so anxious for legislating on the Sabbath would read a document published in the summer of last year, written by the liberal and enlightened Dr. Butler, of Shrewsbury, and delivered as a charge to the Archdeaconry of Derby. He would read an extract from that charge, in which he entirely concurred:—"One or two efforts have been made, evidently so uncongenial to the spirit of freedom and liberty which belongs to our constitution, so harsh in their restrictions, and so unequal in their operation on the different classes of society, that we ought, I think, most heartily to rejoice at their rejection. Furthermore, the severest prohibitions will not effect the truly religious observance of the Sabbath, by influencing the heart. Rather will they tend to bring odium, not only on such legislation, but on the sacred day itself; and by turning it into a day of ascetic gloom instead of religious cheerfulness, may conduce to harden men's hearts, but not to convert them. Acts of Parliament may perhaps be so framed as to provide for the decent external observance of this day; but what Act of Parliament can reach the heart? Could all men be compelled by Act of Parliament to attend divine worship on this day, how little would be done towards making them religious when their attendance was compulsory! It is the will that gives the life and meaning to the act; and this leads me to mention what I consider as far more likely to be efficacious in promoting the proper observance of the Sabbath than a whole statute-book of Parliamentary enactments—I mean, the gentle force of persuasion and example. I have watched, myself, and I have consulted others who have made the same observation, and who concur with me in thinking, that since so general an expression of public opinion has been elicited respecting the desecration of the Sabbath, the good feeling of the people has sympathised with it; and that, although there may be some places where the evil is not yet remedied, this holy day has been generally observed of late with much more solemnity and propriety than heretofore. A point which seems to have been overlooked by some legislators on more than one occasion, is the very wide difference between a metropolitan and country population. In large towns, and especially in the metropolis, excesses will prevail which are unknown in more thinly inhabited districts. Again, they who have been confined in the close and heated air of manufactories and shops, in narrow streets, and crowded and ill-ventilated apartments for six days continually, naturally wish to breathe a freer and purer air and to enjoy a refreshing relaxation on the seventh. To debar these from their usual and only gratification, that actual rest from their labours, and, I may add, that moral enjoyment which they can only receive on this day, would be as oppressive as it fortunately is impossible." He believed that not all the police force in the country could carry the wishes of the framers of Bills like this into effect.

Sir Samuel Whalley

said, that if he considered the measure to be at all like the Bill which was introduced last Session, he should vote for the Amendment. But he thought a single sentence would induce hon. Members to accede to the second reading of the Bill. It was merely to make more effectual a law passed in the reign of Charles 1st.; to close such shops as might not be necessary to the comfort and convenience of the people. The hon. Member says, in answer to the petition on behalf of the market gardeners, that he did not intend to prevent the sale of fruits on the Lord's day. He was sure that the hon. Member, knowing that for six days the labouring classes were pent up in close shops or manufactories, would not attempt for a moment to withdraw them from the pure air of heaven and all innocent amusements which were compatible with the observance of the Lord's day. But it was fit for the Legislature to give every opportunity to the maintenance of a religious observance of the Sabbath among the people, so far as they could without interfering with that innocent recreation and comfort which the people were so justly entitled to; without endeavouring to attain that impracticable object, making the working people religious by Act of Parliament They were to look for the accomplishment of so desirable an object, to the influence of the example of the higher classes—they must abstain from amusements which are so commonly given on the Sabbath day—they must no longer see that flux of carriages crowding the Zoological gardens and the parks, before they put, without shame, an end to those of the lower classes, on the only opportunity which they ever have of tasting those luxuries which their superiors so fortunately enjoyed. It was on these grounds—not from a view of supporting the Bill in its present shape, but from a wish to see what amelioration it might produce, that he should vote for the second reading; with the full determination, that if, in the Committee, all its objections were not removed, and if it still continued to interfere with the enjoyments so common on the Sabbath, he should think himself fully at liberty to throw out the Bill at any subsequent period.

Mr. Poulter

only desired a just and reasonable concurrence between the law of the land and the manners of the people. He was aware that religious people always could obtain the exercise of their religion, but it was the object of his Bill to obtain a decent observance of religion at all places. On the second reading of the Bill of last Session he had received a letter from the worthy Archdeacon D'Oyley, of Lambeth, stating that there was more trade carried on in that parish on a Sunday than on any other day, and he trusted that the House would not assist in maintaining such a state of things. With regard to the argument used, as to what was open shop, he presumed that it would be interpreted by the law according to the quo animo. It would not be considered an open shop because there was an open shutter, or an open door for the family to come in and go out, but according to whether or no there was trading carried on. To prove the liberal way in which the law was generally construed, he need only state, that by the Act of Charles 1st all places were excepted that were open for the sale of meats, and all cook-shops and victualling houses; and the sale of milk was permitted before the hour of nine in the morning and after four in the afternoon. But to show the large exception the law allowed, it was decided by the Court of King's Bench that a baker's shop, open for the cooking of dinners, should be looked upon as a victualling-house, and, consequently exempt from the penalties of that Act. The measure now before the House would, he had no doubt, be interpreted with equal latitude, and its great object was to prevent all disgraceful kind of trading, and to prevent any new excitement being given to Sunday trade which did not now exist; it expressly repealed the statutes 30 George 1st, and 2 George 4th, and 3 George 4th. The Bill did not at all interfere with the poor man at proper hours providing his dinner, and he trusted the House would permit it to be read a second time, particularly when they remembered that the petitions in favour of the subject last Session amounted to above 2,000, and the signatures exceeded half a million.

Mr. Hawes

objected to the Bill going into Committee, for the Act of Charles 2nd it proposed to enforce was practically obsolete.

Sir Robert Bateson

had for the last two months come down, day after day, with the view of presenting several petitions, praying for the better enforcement of the observance of the Sabbath. He felt it a duty to a large constituency, who were anxious for the passing some law on the subject, to give his support to this measure. He was not to be daunted by the sneers or taunts of those who advocated the necessity of free trade. The well-wishers of free trade attacked the subject covertly; they were afraid to come forward openly, for they would have their arguments refuted. He trusted that the hon. Member for Shaftesbury (Mr. Poulter) would not be intimidated, but persevere in his intentions.

Mr. Lennard

said the Bill expressly revived the statute of Charles 2nd. And the statute of George 2nd, which excepted the healthy amusement of boating from its other interdictions, would also be repealed by it, and thus that delightful recreation would be forbidden. If this Bill were to be passed into a law it must be very much altered. In its present state he could not support it.

Mr. William Ord

had an objection on principle to the Bill before the House. It was founded on exceptions. No Bill should proceed upon such a principle.—Properly speaking, the exceptions destroyed the principle, and, therefore, the measure had no principle at all. It would, he was satisfied, be found to be a mere in- effectual attempt to deal by legislation with a subject, which, from its very nature, defied legislation. He wished that all statutes respecting the regulation of the Sabbath were blotted out of the Statute Book, and that the preservation of the sanctity of that day was left entirely to the conscientious feeling of the people. As the exceptions to the Bill before the House were so numerous as to completely destroy the principle of the measures, and as it consequently was without any principle at all, he felt it to be his duty to oppose its further progress.

Mr. George F. Young

said, the opposition to the Bill was of the most pernicious character. He could scarcely refrain from perceiving that those who opposed it seemed determined to break down all distinction between the Sabbath and the week day. He trusted that the House would never consent to such an encroachment, for if they did the poor man alone would be injured by it. At present the labourer worked six days in the week, and rested on the seventh. The object of the Bill of the hon. Member for Shaftesbury went to affirm that regulation and enforce it. If the principle which the opposers of the measure advocated, the entire freedom of Sunday trading, were once admitted by the Legislature, the poor man would be compelled to work the remaining day, the Sabbath, and he would get no additional wages. That something was necessary to be done for the suppression of the evil of extravagant Sunday trading the number of petitions which had been presented to the House sufficiently proved. He was, he confessed, much astonished to see hon. Members, in opposition to the measure, who, on all occasions took so much credit to themselves for liberality of sentiment and respect for the petitions of the people attend so little lo either in respect to the Bill before the House. Believing the Bill before the House to be one calculated to effect the object in view, he should give it his support.

Mr. Ervart

was convinced, that the Bill would have no effect whatever in promoting the better observance of the Sabbath. As far as he could judge of the temper of the House, and the inclination of the country, he never knew an opposition to any measure to be so extended, so uniform, so temperate, and at the same time so determined. The measure was radically de- fective, for it gave exclusive privilege to a certain class, while it took away privilege from another. It was consequently most unfair. It proposed to enforce the observance of the Sabbath, and yet it left servants, and others of that condition, under the control of their masters, and compellable to work. Thus, while its ostensible object was the preservation of the sanctity of the Sunday, it in reality countenanced its desecration. To be consistent with its purpose and its title, it should have gone farther, or not gone so far. He should therefore oppose it.

Mr. Secretary Goulburn

had, on more than one occasion, given his support to measures which had for their object the preservation of the sanctity of the Sabbath, so that he thought he needed do no more than repeat his conviction, that some additional means of effecting that desirable object to those already in existence were required. He had not, however, supported some Bills which purported to have the same general object in view as the present measure, because he believed they went beyond those limits where legislative interference should stop short. The Bill of the hon. Member for Shaftesbury was not open to this objection; it went to the exact limits which it ought to stop at, and went no further. It prevented only the obvious and publicly offensive desecrations of the Sabbath, and did not interfere with those harmless enjoyments of the poorer classes which were embraced by the other measures to which he had alluded. He (Mr. Goulburn) therefore thought the hon. Member had acted a wise part in limiting its provisions to those bounds, and exempting it by that means from the just exception to former measures—measures, he would say, brought forward in the best spirit, but with an erroneous view of the subject on which they sought to interfere. The hon. Member for Liverpool had said, that the Bill took away the privilege of a certain class, and instanced servants in support of his argument that Sunday trading should not be interfered with. But the argument of the hon. Member, to be of avail, should be extended farther; and, if it were extended farther on the principle sought to be established, the theatres might be opened on the Sabbath. [Mr. Ewart: There was a special Act against opening the theatres on Sundays.] He admitted that, but he also begged to remind the hon. Member, that there existed a special Act against all desecration of the Sabbath. That Act, however, was found so foreign to the present state of society in this empire, that it was permitted to remain obsolete. Another hon. Member had said, that he should rather the observance of the Sabbath was left to the feelings of the people, than to the interference of the Legislature. He did not desire to compel the consciences of others, but the abuse was one which called for redress. It should be borne in mind, also, that the continuance of the desecration of the Sabbath hurt the feelings and offended the consciences of the religiously-disposed portion of the community; and he thought the House had a distinct right to attend to their feelings, as much as to those of any other class. Besides the evils which he had enumerated, the desecration of the Sabbath led to others of a more serious description. It fostered and encouraged vice in youth, and gave rise to many of those great crimes which the records of our courts furnished us with daily. The House should pay attention to trade, and consult its interests, it was true; but they should also attend to the conscientious feelings of religious people, and the bad examples which laxity of discipline on this day was likely to have upon the morals of the younger portion of the community. With respect to the observance of the Sabbath, he could say for himself that he entertained no austere feelings or impracticable opinions. He would not wish to debar the poor man from those innocent recreations on that day, which did not desecrate its sanctity, while they invigorated his frame against the ensuing week of labour, and made him look up with more gratitude to the Great Author of all being—the source of all happiness. The subject was one on which he (Mr. Goulburn) could enlarge at considerable length, but he would not trespass on the attention of the House further. He hoped due regard would be had to the feelings of the people and the interests of religion, which could be shown no better than by suffering the Bill to be read a second time.

Mr. Clay

said, that the opponents of the Bill took their stand on the fact, that Sunday trading was not so great in amount as to require legislation to prevent it. A great deal had been said about not offending the consciences of religious people. Other people had consciences as well as religious people, and if the one were protected, he did not see why the other should not be equally so. Why did not hon. Gentlemen who supported that Bill, go to the extent of the Puritans in the time of Cromwell? If the argument was good in the one instance, it was good in all. They ought to enforce the observance of the Sabbath with the utmost strictness, or not at all. The extent to which the restriction went was scarcely exaggerated in the following lines in Drunken Barnaby's Journal: Veni Banbury. Oh! profanum! Ubi vidi Puritanum Felem facientem furem Quia Sabbatho stravit murem. But what was the consequence of this excessive strictness? Why, such a reaction took place in consequence, that in the reign of Charles 2nd, the Sabbath was no better observed than it was in the present day in France. It was to enable the artizan to enjoy the luxury of his Sunday dinner, that Sabbath labour was now required; and the same would be the case, if there were no restrictions on Sunday. Therefore the argument of the hon. Member for Tynemouth fell to the ground as to the labourer and artizan being compelled to work on that day, as well as the other six. As far as his (Mr. Clay's) observation of the metropolis went, he would fearlessly say, that in ninety-nine cases out of one hundred, Sunday trading was limited to procuring enjoyment for the artizan, the labourer, and, generally, the working classes. Under these circumstances he should oppose the second reading of the Bill.

Mr. Pringle

said, that the Bill was founded on the report of a Select Committee of the House, who had examined evidence, and taken every pains to procure information on the subject. If the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had read the report and the evidence given before the Committee he could not have stated that Sunday trading was not too great. Any hon. Member, however, who wished to take the evidence of his own senses on the subject, needed only go through various parts of London on a Sunday morning, Tooley-street, Lambeth, and St. Giles's, and he would soon be convinced of the incorrectness of the hon. Gentleman's statement. It would, he was aware, be urged against the suppression of Sunday trading, that the artizan and labourer were not paid their wages till late on Saturday night; but all practical men were agreed that that was the effect and not the cause of it. Most of the witnesses examined before the Committee said, "Suppress the Sunday markets, and you will compel the employers to pay their labourers and mechanics on the Friday." The complaints against it were not confined to the religious portion of the community; they came from the Sunday traders themselves. Butchers said that more than half their sales were made on the Sabbath; and other trades were equally busy, to their great annoyance in many cases, and personal inconvenience in others. He should support the Bill in its further progress.

Colonel Evans

said, that the Bill if passed in the present shape would have the effect of reducing many thousands to a state of beggary. It would also trench very deeply upon a certain portion of the trading property of the metropolis. He much regretted the hon. Member for Shaftesbury did not see fit to take these things into his consideration previous to coming forward with any legislative interference on the subject of the Sabbath. As he wished all information possible on the nature of the Bill he desired to know of the hon. Member, whether it was contemplated by it to prevent the sale of fruit, vegetables, fish, and all other perishable commodities left over Saturday night on the Sunday?

Sir A. Agnew

hoped that the hon. Member for Shaftesbury would not enter into any compromise or entertain any suggestion made by the enemies of Sabbath legislation. If he did, the effect would be an impairing of the utility of the Bill, perhaps its destruction. He (Sir A. Agnew) was happy to find a growing number of hon. Members in the House disposed to respect the petitions of the religious portion of the community, and interfere to prevent the desecration of the Lord's-day. The Bill should have his best support.

Mr. Hume

was disposed to vote for the second reading of the Bill until he had heard the observations of the hon. Baronet addressed to the hon. Member for Shaftesbury. He was very unwilling to trust the measure in Committee to a man who could advise another not to listen to any reasonable suggestion. He wished to know of the hon. Member for Shaftesbury whether confectioners' shops, or those traders who travelled, from place to place in steam- boats on a Sunday, to provide refreshments for the passengers, would be interfered with by his Bill?

Mr. Poulter

replied that confectioners' shops fell under the equitable construction given to the Act of Charles 2nd by the Court of King's Bench; and the Bill had no reference whatever to what was done on board steam-boats.

The House divided on the original Question that the Bill be read a second time:—Ayes 121; Noes 45; Majority 76.

Bill read a second time.

List of the AYES.
Agnew, Sir A. Hindley, C.
Ashley, Lord Hogg, J.W.
Astley Sir J. Hutt, W.
Alsager, Captain Harvey, D. W.
Archdall, M. Hardy, J.
Bateson, Sir R. Johnstone, Sir J.
Balfour, J. Johnston, A.
Buller, C. Johnson, H.
Brocklehurst, J. Irton, S.
Berkeley F. Kirk, P.
Bulwer, H. L. Lefroy, A.
Bonham, F. R. Lennox, Lord G.
Barnard, E. G. Lennox, Lord A.
Baines, E. Lister, C.
Brotherton, J. Law, Hon. G.
Bagshaw, J. Lowther, J.
Bewes, T. Lopez, Sir R.
Bailey J. Lincoln, Lord.
Bruen, F. Lemon, Sir C.
Brownrigg, J. S. Lucas, E.
Barneby, J. Lushington, C.
Baring, T. Mandeville, Lord
Cayley, E. Miles, W.
Chapman, A. Maxwell, A.
Crewe, Sir G. Morpeth, Viscount
Clerk, Sir G. Mullins, F. W.
Crawley, S. M'Taggart, J.
Castlereagh, Viscount Nicholl, J.
Chatterton, Colonel O'Neill, General
Dundas, R. A. Parry, Colonel
Dalbiac, Sir C. Pease, J.
Duffield, T. Pryme, G.
Dare, R. W. H. Pusey, P.
Dobbin, L. Pemberton, T.
Etwall, R. Praed W. M.
Eastnor, Viscount Pringle, A.
Egerton, Lord F. Perceval, Col.
Finch, G. Price, Sir G.
Fremantle, Sir T. F. Rolfe, R. M.
Forbes, W. Rickford, W.
Forster, C. S. Rae, Sir W.
Fergusson, C. Russell, Lord J.
Forester, Hon. G. Richards, J.
Goulburn, Hon. H. Ross, C.
Goring, H. D. Rundle, J.
Gully, J. Ryle, J.
Grey, Sir J. Scott, Sir E.
Hay, Sir J. Stewart, Sir M. S.
Hope, Hon. J. Sheppard, T.
Hanmer, Sir J. Strickland, Sir G.
Hall, B. Somerset, Lord E.
Somerset, Lord G. Walker, R.
Sharpe, General Wallace, R.
Tooke, W. Whalley, Sir S.
Thomas, Colonel Wodehouse, E.
Trench, Colonel Young, G. F.
Twiss, H. Young, J.
Vere, Sir C. TELLERS.
Verner, Col. Poulter, J.
Verney, Sir H. Fremantle, Sir T.
List of the Noes.
Aglionby, H. A. Marsland, H.
Attwood, T. O'Brian, C.
Barry, G. S. O'Connell, J.
Bish, T. O'Connor, Don.
Bodkin, J. J. O'Loghlen, Mr.
Brady, D. C. Oswald, R. A.
Bridgeman, H. Phillips, M.
Butler, Hon. Col. Potter, R.
Clay, W. Power, P.
Crawford, W. S. Powers, J.
Dennistoun, Alex. Roche, W.
Dobbin, L. Sharpe, General
Dunlop, C. Tancred, H. W.
Fielden, J. Thornley, T.
Finn, F. Trelawney, Sir W.
Fitzsimon, N. Turner, W.
Fort, J. Wakley, T.
Hawes, B. Warburton, H.
Hawkins, J. H. White, S.
Heathcote, R. E. Williams, W.
Hector, C. J. TELLERS.
Hume, Joseph Ewart, W.
M'Cleod, R. Ord, W. H.
Mangles, J.