HC Deb 18 May 1836 vol 33 cc1066-78

Sir Andrew Agnew moved the second reading of the Sabbath Observance Bill. The nu- merous petitions which had just now been presented, he said, were a proof that a very different feeling existed out of doors with reference to this subject, than seemed generally to prevail within the walls of Parliament. The scene which had just been witnessed in the presentation of petitions was alone sufficient to justify him in the introduction of this Bill. He much feared that the difference of feeling arose from the imperfections of the humble advocate of the measure in the House. Hon. Members said, that this measure attacked the poor by depriving them of their rational enjoyments. He would ask them whether, if their lot had been cast amongst the working classes, and they were obliged to labour for six, nay seven days in the week, would they give an ironical cheer at the introduction of a measure which would prevent their labouring on the seventh day. From what he knew of the opinions of the working classes, he was sure that if he were addressing the same number of mechanics as there were hon. Members opposite, they would, to a man, give him their support. The best way to protect the labourer was to save him from the constraint now put upon him. How could the working classes be debarred from their rational enjoyments by this Bill, when many of them were now obliged to labour seven days in the week all the year round? The principle of restraining men from Sabbath labour was—that the poor man may have the option of going free on the Sabbath-day, and of spending it in that religious worship which was in accordance with his conscience. Those he meant to include under the term poor, were the thousands—hundreds of thousands he might say—who were forced to work on the Sabbath, or who, if they refused, risked the loss of employment on the other days of the week. The object of the Bill was to give protection to every person engaged in trade or business in abstaining from labour on the Sabbath. He held in his hand a petition from the fishmongers and poulterers of London, anxiously praying for protection; and here was a proof that those who contributed to the luxuries of the rich sought for a cessation of labour, and that the protection given to them would, in effect, be an indirect coercion to the rich, who would be deprived of the luxuries they now enjoyed on the Sabbath. Practically, the rich would be restrained, and the poor set free from toil. When the Anti-Slavery question was under discussion, it was tauntingly said, that had it been necessary for every man to pay down 5s. on signing his name, the signatures would have been much less; as it was, it cost a man nothing to sympathize with the slave. And so in the Factory Question of ten hours' labour, which he had warmly supported, it cost him nothing to sympathize with the poor children. But the petitions of this evening prayed for restrictions upon their own class. Many friends had written to him since the introduction of this Bill, to know how they could assist its progress; and in reply he had explained the difficulty of getting the Members of the House to believe the people's wishes when expressed in petitions signed indiscriminately by persons of all trades. He had suggested, that the example of Chelsea should be followed; from whence have come up ten separate petitions from the members of separate trades, which it was impossible to misunderstand, unless the House were determined to do so. Many such petitions had this night been laid on the Table; he would only mention two examples which had come from the extremes of the kingdom. At Inverness, the several incorporated trades had separately petitioned; and at Bath the coach-proprietors, butchers, bakers, hucksters, and hair-dressers, had within a very few days, followed out the same suggestion. Some coach-proprietors in other places had endeavoured to discontinue their Sunday coaches, and a few had ceased; but some were thought necessary, as the Monday markets of the metropolis occasion the sending up to town of so much more merchandize on the Lord's-day than on any other day of the week. If the House had thought it right to remove the Monday markets to Tuesday, this evil would have been abated. Here, then, was a case in which the protection of the Legislature was required. When hon. Members talked of Sunday travelling, they seemed to take it for granted that the travellers themselves were alone interested. They forgot the coachmen and guards, the inn-keepers and their families, bookkeepers, ostlers, their assistants the horse-keepers, and several others dependent on, or connected with, the vehicles on the road. Let hon. Members consider that for every mile travelled on a Sunday, in a public coach, there were numbers of immortal beings like themselves, so em- ployed in connexion with that travelling, who were thus, contrary to their wishes, unable to attend Divine worship. It was stated, that for every mile so travelled, about one man and one horse were required. Letters which he had received from all parts of the country, described the degraded condition of the men whose work was continued on the Lord's-day, and they added, that that degradation existed in proportion as the men were obliged to work more or less on the Sabbath, for that the most degraded were those who were the most employed on that day. This fact was stated in evidence three years ago. Hon. Gentlemen might laugh if they pleased, but hundreds of petitioners complained of this grievance. He could not conceive how hon. Members, calling themselves the friends of the people, and professing to bow down before their opinions, could laugh at their petitions, and reject their prayer. As an instance of the good effects which might be expected to result from the cessation of Sunday labour, he might mention the case of the Mersey and Irwell Canal Company, who put a stop to Sunday navigation; and that excellent regulation had been productive of the greatest moral effects upon the men. They were required to work to twelve o'clock on the Saturday night, and to commence work again at twelve on the Sunday night. This was very laborious, but the men had pledged themselves to save their masters from loss. This was one great step towards the desired reform on this subject. These men had expressed, in a petition to this House presented this evening, their great gratitude to the proprietors of the canal for the been thus granted to them. Other canal companies had sought to take advantage of this merciful indulgence to the poor man, and rival establishments had held it out as an inducement to the public to deal with them, that there was no remission of work on the canals on Sundays more than any other days. Thus, other carriers endeavoured to gain advantage, by holding out the inducement to the merchants of superior speed by Sunday travelling on the canals. This was not a question merely with reference to merchandize, but the immortal souls of their fellow-men were disregarded by the avaricious masters, who, for their own paltry gain, refused to listen to the spiritual interests of their poor boatmen Perhaps the hon. Member for Wigan, who was so well acquainted with Manchester, could explain how the masters, there, reconciled such proceedings to their own feelings? A statement sent from two locks in Hertfordshire showed that a greater amount of tonnage passed on Sundays, by thirty per cent., than on Saturdays and Mondays, and other days. The system of Sabbath desecration was carried on to such an extent at present, that he had little doubt the public voice would, before long, be strongly expressed on the necessity of some legislative enactment to restrain it; and though hon. Members opposite might sneer at the matter now, the time would come when Sabbath legislation would be a popular question, brought forward by some popular Member. Unfortunately, however, those who were most affected by the non-observance of the Sabbath were below the grade of constituents, and seemed to occupy little of the care of hon. Members, however anxious to be considered liberal. It had been frequently argued that the present Sabbath laws were sufficient, but they had been fully put to the test in different parts of the metropolis, and found to be unavailing to stop the Sunday trading, although voluntary associations had been formed, and the magistracy and parish officers had given their best aid; this had been repeatedly tried on the south of the river, and lately in the north of the town the experiment had been tried on a larger scale, where hundreds of promises had been given for closing shops on the Lord's-day. But by the obstinacy and avarice of the few, tempting their neighbours, through fear of competition and the loss of customers, the evil had spread, and all was nearly as bad as it was before. The Attorney-General being consulted as to the validity of some proceedings in Lambeth, confirmed the validity of a warrant of the magistrates of Union Hall, but expressed regret that they had attempted to put into execution a Statute which, he remarked, by no means furthered its object; the attempt to enforce the present law in that district had therefore been given up. His Bill went to protect every man's religious liberty, so that he might follow the dictates of his own conscience in the observance of the Sabbath; but an attempt to regulate the domestic arrangements within the House of the rich man would only introduce a principle which, when carried down the scale of society, would prove most oppressive to the poor householder himself. The fourth commandment, upon which all our proceedings rest, being addressed especially to the conscience of man, as the head of a family, it was incumbent on him to see that his son and his daughter, his man-servant land his maid-servant, obeyed the Divine law. And it was to set every Christian man free, thus within his family, to worship Almighty God according to his conscience, that this Bill was framed. It was his wish, that an opportunity should be given to every man to attend Divine worship on the Sabbath according to his conscience; at the same time he would not enter into the private house of any man. Any measure that would warrant the Magistrates in going into the house of the rich man would be equally applicable to the house of the poor man. He, therefore, would not propose any regulations which would act upon the domestic concerns of either class. He admitted that the obligation of Sabbath observance should apply equally to all, and he was aware there were many instances in which the conduct of masters interfered with the conscientious feelings of their household servants; but he saw no means of interfering in those instances, without adopting a principle which should bear equally on all classes. "The hon. Baronet moved that the Bill be read a second time."

Mr. Plumptre

seconded the motion. Every class of the community had expressed their wish that the House would afford them protection on the Lord's Day, and enable them to rest from their fatiguing labours. But this was the lowest ground on which the principle of the Bill could be defended. In legislating for the West-India slaves they preserved for their use part of Saturday and the whole of Sunday. There were other considerations necessary to be acted on than those involved in the authority of the fourth commandment. Other commandments had additional influence imparted to them by the force of human laws. Legislators did not suffer the murderer to escape unpunished. His hon. Friend had evinced his zeal, his sincerity, and great perseverance in his efforts for the protection of the trading classes, and the public might feel assured that he would bring the subject again and again before the House till he obtained protection for the people on the Lord's Day.

Mr. Ward moved, as an amendment, that the Bill be read a second time this day six months. He did so without the slightest wish to approach the subject with anything like ribaldry, but from the firmest conviction that the measure was most objectionable in point of principle. So far as he could discover any principle on which the measure was founded, the only principle he could discover was, that all classes were bound to abide by every word contained in the fourth commandment, and if that really was the principle on which the hon. Baronet set out, then he must say the hon. Baronet had failed to carry out that principle; for, by the 26th clause, he excepted menial servants from the operation of the Bill. This was contrary to Divine law, which, if legislation was to take place, ought to be adhered to. The hon. Baronet said, that this was a Bill of liberty to the poor man; but what liberty did he leave? Why, the hon. Baronet took away from him the power of locomotion—he confined him within the narrow street of a great metropolis in which his daily work was performed. No omnibus was to run to carry him to fresh air, no steamboat was to ply—and yet the hon. Baronet called this a poor man's Bill. Though, doubtless, the Bill would by its operation subject the rich to some inconvenience, yet he denied that it would work relief to the poor labouring classes—on the contrary, it would press with tenfold hardship on them. The very first clause prevented them from purchasing food on the Sunday morning, though they had not been paid their earnings until a late hour on the preceding night. If the poor man should walk out in order to escape from the confinement to which the hon. Baronet would still hold him, he would find the tea-gardens closed against him, and even the most wholesome beverage denied to him. He would not weary the House by going into details; but he asked the hon. Baronet whether he thought it possible that in a great commercial country like this any Bill could possibly pass, by which all transactions, of whatever description, and under whatever circumstances, would be stopped for one day? The Bill went to the extent of preventing the sailing of ships on Sunday, even though the wind, which might for some time have been adverse, should accidentally be favourable on that day. Did not the hon. Baronet know that Divine Service was always, at least in King's ships, performed on Sun- day while sailing; and on the other hand, that it was most probable that, while ships were in harbour, the sailors would go on shore on Sundays as well as other days, and enter into every sort of debauchery? He did not know whether it was in the recollection of hon. Members that this subject was once submitted to the House of Assembly in the United States of North America. It was supported by petitions from some most respectable men in that country. Well, in the American Assembly a report was made; and the restriction was proposed to be confined to the mail-coaches, which were not to be allowed to travel on the Sunday. But the opponents of the measure very naturally asked,—"Why confine your prayer to the travelling of the mail? Why not stop all the executive functions on the Sunday? Why not require an Act to prevent ships from sailing, or an army from marching, on that day?" The advocates of the measure seemed to forget that the functions of Government were as necessary on a Sunday as any-other day in the week, and that it was the Government who enabled even the petitioners to worship God in their own manner, in peace. But all this, which the Americans considered to be impracticable and absurd, the hon. Baronet had boldly proposed. He repeated, that in a great commercial country like this the project was impracticable, and on these grounds he moved the amendment which he had already stated to the House. He concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Captain Pechell

said, that he had presented some petitions praying for the better. observance of the Sabbath, and was anxious to support some legislative measure on the subject. He found it impossible, however, to give his vote in favour of the Bill before the House, because it was quite impossible to modify it so as to make it a tolerable measure. From most of the fishing ports the fishing boats sailed on Sunday afternoon, the fishermen coming in on the Saturday, to enable them to perform their religious duties. The hon. Baronet's Bill would put a stop to the whole of the fisheries of this country.

Colonel Thompson

would oppose the Bill on a broader ground than any that had been stated yet. He would assert roundly, that there was no basis in the Christian Scriptures for the attempt to enforce the Judaical observance of the Sabbath; and, if Members on the other side thought differently, he challenged them to produce their proofs. If the Catholic Members in that House were to bring in a Bill, the preamble of which declared, that the sacrifice of the mass was a principal part of the true service of God, it would be considered as an indecent and unjustifiable attempt to force their own religious opinions on those who denied their authenticity. It was equally indecent and unjustifiable for Members on the other side to attempt to force their own opinions upon those who totally denied the existence of any authority for them in the Scripture, from which they were professed to be deduced.

Mr. Aglionby

, amidst general cries of "Question," read a letter, which he had received from the Secretary of the Mechanics' Institution at Cockermouth, thanking him for the opposition he offered to the Sunday Bills. He thought that letter was a proof that the statement of the hon. Baronet, that the poorer classes were all in favour of the Bill before the House was not correct.

Mr. Shaw

would support the second reading of the Bill, although he could not approve of all its details. He felt, with the many petitions that had addressed the House on the subject, in petitions presented by himself and other Members, that some enactment to enforce the better observance of the Lord's day was imperatively required, and he thought the proper mode of dealing with the measure then before them was to go into Committee upon it, and there to retain what was good, and to strike out what was objectionable in its provisions. He concurred in the statements of the preamble, that it was the bounden duty of Parliament to protect every class of society against being required to sacrifice their comfort and religious privileges on the Sabbath day, and that the laws now in existence were found practically insufficient for that purpose. He should like to see the various and nearly obsolete statutes bearing on the question repealed, and one simple and efficacious enactment substituted for them. Such an act, he thought, ought to provide against hiring, trading, drunkenness, gaming, sporting, and everything which was inconsistent with public decorum—in all these respects, then, he approved of the present Bill—but he did not conceive it possible in a great commercial country, such as this, to retain the clauses against vessels sailing, or matters being transmitted by public conveyances on the Sab- bath day—neither would he support the 9th and 10th clauses, which he felt would bear unevenly upon the humbler classes in prohibiting them from the use of hired carriages and horses on the Sunday, unless at the same time it were possible to prevent the higher and wealthier classes from using their own. He entirely concurred in the sentiment which had been quoted at the other side of the House, that it was impossible to make man religious by Act of Parliament. He was aware that the Sabbath could only be kept truly holy by means above the reach of human legislation—but still he considered it was the duty of a Christian legislature to promote the outward observances of morality, to suppress everything which offended against the public morals, and to prevent, as far as possible, the desecration of that day which was set apart as well by the law as by religion for sacred purposes. He would, therefore, gladly vote for the second reading of the Bill, believing that in Committee the great object he had in view might be promoted, while in other respects the measure could be rendered more reasonable, due regard being had to the existing circumstances of society.

Lord Arthur Lennox

expressed his determination to vote in favour of the second reading, for the same reason as that stated by the preceding speaker.

Mr. Pryme

had voted for former Bills introduced by the hon. Baronet, in the hope the severity of their enactments might be mitigated in Committee; but perceiving that the present measure went even further than any of the preceding Bills on the same subject, he could not consent to vote for the second reading.

Mr. Cumming Bruce

, though he could not acquiesce in all the enactments of the Bill, would vote for the second reading, because he thought it the duty of that House and of every Christian Government to sanction, as far as possible, by human enactments, the due observance of the Lord's day.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

rose to remind the hon. Member for Cambridge, who had expressed his intention to vote against the present Bill, that the Bill was the identical measure, word for word, to which that hon. Member had, on former occasions, given his support. He did not mean to follow the example of the hon. Member for Cambridge, and should certainly vote for the second reading of the Bill.

Sir Stratford Canning

was favourable to the principle of the Bill, but he was anxious to guard himself against the supposition that he was ready to go the whole length of its details. Considering that the subject was one of great importance, considering also the number of petitions which had been presented with respect to it, and the different quarters from which they came, he thought it would be more becoming in the House to allow the Bill to go to a Committee, there to be altered, than to throw it out at the present stage.

Lord John Russell

should not feel indisposed to vote for the second reading if he thought it possible that the Bill could be amended in Committee, but the whole Bill was, in his opinion, so defective, that not a single clause could be adopted with advantage. He therefore objected to proceeding any further with the measure, because it was calculated to cast ridicule upon every future attempt at legislation on the subject.

Mr. Andrew Johnston

was rendered almost wholly inaudible by the impatience of the House to divide. He was understood to express his regret that the noble Lord did not give his sanction to the Bill, and to recommend the hon. Baronet (Sir Andrew Agnew), in deference to the feeling of the House, to make his measure less extensive in its operation.

Mr. Charles Barclay

had voted for the first reading of the Bill, because he thought it only right to give the hon. Member an opportunity of introducing his measure. He had since examined the provisions of the Bill, and they were certainly of such a nature that he must oppose them. He thought that those hon. Members who had expressed an intention to vote for the second reading were only practising a delusion on the hon. Baronet (Sir Andrew Agnew), because every one of them had expressed a desire to see the Bill totally changed in Committee. It was not his lot to have travelled abroad, but, from all that he had heard, he believed the Sabbath was far better observed in this country than in any other; and he was of opinion, that no legislative enactment that could be devised would compel individuals to lead a more moral or more religious life. He was unwilling to interfere with the amusements of the lower classes. He liked to see the children in his neighbourhood amusing themselves on a Sunday at a game of cricket, or in taking a walk in the after- noon. He could not bring himself to consent to prevent the lower classes, who were confined at work during six days of the week, from enjoying themselves during a portion of the seventh. For these reasons he should vote against the second reading of the bill.

Mr. Hardy

said, that as his hon. Friend wished for a stringent observance of the Sabbath, others a less stringent observance of it, and another class of persons a very lax observance of it, he thought the only course the House could take was, to permit the Bill to go into Committee, when every Gentleman would have the opportunity of submitting such amendments as appeared to them proper, in order to make the Bill assume the shape of an Act of Parliament.

The House divided on the original question:—Ayes 43; Noes 75; Majority 32.

Bill put off for six months.

List of the AYES.
Bagot, hon. W. Hale, R. B.
Baines, E. Hardy, J.
Balfour, T. Hughes, W. H.
Bateson, Sir R. Jackson, Sergeant
Becket, rt. hon. Sir J. Jones, W.
Brocklehurst, J. Lees, J. F.
Bruce, C. L. C. Lefroy, A.
Chapman, A. Lennox, Lord A.
Chichester, A. Lowther, J. H.
Chisholm, A. W. Miles, W.
Conolly, E. M. Pease, J.
Dunbar, G. Plumptre, J. P.
Dunlop, J. Plunket, hon. R. E.
Eaton, R. J. Shaw, right hon. F.
Edwards, J. Sheppard, T.
Fector, J. M. Smith, A.
Finch, G. Thompson, Alderman
Fleetwood, P. H. Verney, Sir H.
Fleming, J. Wilson, H.
Forbes, W. Young, G. F.
Forster, C. S.
Fremantle, Sir T. TELLERS.
Glynne, Sir S. Agnew, Sir A.
Green, T. Johnston, A.
List of the NOES,
Aglionby, H. A. Clements, Lord
Alston, R. Codrington, Admiral
Barclay, C. Crawford, W. S.
Baring, F. Crawley, S.
Barnard, E. G. Curties, H. B.
Barry, G. S. Duncombe, T.
Beauclerk, Major Ebrington, Lord
Bernal, R. Elphinstone, H.
Bish, T. Ewart, W.
Bowes, John Fitzroy, Lord C.
Bowring, Dr. Fort, J.
Bridgeman, H. Hawes, B.
Browne, R. D. Hawkins, J. H.
Campbell, Sir J. Hector, C. J.
Churchill, Lord C. Heneage, E.
Clay, W. Horseman, E,
Howard, P. H. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Howick, Lord Rundle, J.
Hume, J. Russell, Lord J.
Hutt, W. Ruthven, E.
Jephson, C. D. Sharpe, General
Jervis, J. Smith, B.
Langton, W. G. Strutt, E.
Lennox, Lord G. Surrey, Earl of
Lushington, Dr. Talbot, J. H.
M'Leod, R. Tancred, H. W.
M'Taggart, J. Thompson, Colonel
Marjoribanks, S. Thornley, T.
Marsland, H. Trelawney, Sir W.
Mostyn, hon. E. Troubridge, Sir E. T.
Mullins, F. W. Villiers, C. P.
O'Loghlen, M. Wakley, T.
Parrott, J. Wilde, Sergeant
Pechell, Captain Williams, T. P.
Philips, M. Williams, W.
Philips, G. R. Wynn, rt. hon. C. W.
Potter, R. TELLERS.
Roche, D. Ward, H. G.
Roebuck, J. A. Pryme, G.
Paired off.
Tooke, W. Ferguson, Sir R.