HC Deb 14 July 1840 vol 55 cc720-30
Mr. Hume

rose pursuant to notice, to move that an humble address be presented to her Majesty, that she will be pleased to recommend to the trustees of the British Museum, and to the trustees of the National Gallery, that those places be opened for the admission of the public on Sundays, after divine service, at such hours as the houses of licensed victuallers, of sellers of beer, and of keepers of gin shops are now legally open to the public. The object of his motion was to improve the moral and religious character of the people. He begged hon. Members to look for a moment at the way in which the Sunday was now spent by the humble classes. The higher classes had Zoological Gardens, and other places of pleasant and instructive recreation to resort to; but the humble working man, after a week of hard toil, after labouring from Monday morning till Saturday night, to a degree unequalled in any other part of the world, had few other places to resort to on the Sunday except the public-house. One of the first objects of a wise Legislature ought to be to provide places of innocent, healthful, and instructive recreation for the mass of the community, for those who, during the greater part by far of their lives were condemned to earn their bread by the sweat of their brows. They ought to be provided not only with the means of taking healthful exercise of the body, but they ought also to be provided with the means of obtaining wholesome mental instruction. At present, any person who took the trouble of walking through the suburbs of the metropolis would find a public-house at the corner of every street crowded with the humbler classes, who spent thus, in the unwholesome atmosphere of the gin-shop, not only their property but their health. Surely, if there were any mode of remedying these evils, in even a slight degree, the remedy ought to be adopted. At present, according to the 2 and 3 of Victoria, c. 47, s 42, houses for the sale of fermented liquors were not to be opened before one o'clock on Sundays, and all he asked for by his motion was, that the British Museum and the National Gallery, places so well calculated to afford amusement and instruction, should be opened to the public, at the time the public-houses were allowed to be opened. Why, he would ask, did it happen that in England less attention was paid to the wants of the working classes than in any other country in the world? There was scarcely a large town on the continent in which places of amusement and instruction were not opened gratuitously to the public during a portion of the Sunday. Surely it was time that such an example should be followed in this country. From the want of places of rational instruction and amusement the people, as he said before, were now driven to the public-house; and the result, as proved by the returns made by the metropolitan police, was, that during the first five months of the year 1838, not less than 2,380 persons were arrested, between the hours of twelve o'clock on Saturday night and twelve o'clock on Sunday night, for drunkenness, In 1839, for the same period, the numbers were 2,220; and in 1840, the numbers were 1,320. But looking at the return for the whole of those years, he found that the aggregate number of drunken persons arrested on Sunday was greater than on any other day in the week. He thought that the opening of places of innocent amusement on the Sunday would keep people out of the public-house, and he had, therefore, a perfect conviction that his motion, if agreed to, would be productive of benefit to the morals of the people—would tend to improve their religious habits, and would tend to make them in every way better men. He had received a letter from a working man, in which, after expressing a hope that the House would agree to his motion, he suggested that the opening of St. Paul's cathedral, of Westminster-abbey, and of the Tower on Sundays would be most conducive to the health and entertainment of the working classes. He would inform the House of what had been the result of the partial opening of those places of instruction and amusement that had already taken place, which would show that in proportion as they opened the door of such places to the public, the public had taken advantage of the opportunity afforded to them. The visitors to the British Museum since the alterations in the hours of keeping that place open, had increased from 300,000 to 600,000. The visitors to the National Gallery had increased to 387,000. The visitors to the Tower had increased from 12,000 to 42,000, and when the entrance fee was reduced to sixpence, the number had increased to70,000. The visitors to Hampton Court, since it had been open to the public on Sundays, had increased tenfold. Let them open the other public places he had enumerated on the Sundays, after the hours of divine service, and he would undertake to say that the public-houses would be in a great degree empty, and the comforts and happiness of the people would be greatly increased. The hon. Member then referred to various returns he had obtained from different towns in the United Kingdom, for the purpose of showing the great increase that had taken place in the number of visitors to the different public exhibitions. He called upon the House to give a fair trial to the proposition which he had made, to open the British Museum and the National Gallery to the public on Sundays. By doing so they would bring back the population from dissoluteness and vice, and give the people an opportunity of improving themselves by the study of the liberal arts. He did not wish to interfere with the duties belonging to the Sunday, but he thought if they allowed the people to enter public houses on that day, they might also allow them to enter those institutions where the public treasures and the pictures had been brought together at the public expense. The country had contributed largely to these exhibitions, and he thought that the working classes ought to have their share in a pleasure which was highly prized by the upper classes. After the testimonies he had read in favour of his motion, he had no doubt but that he would receive the support of the House.

Mr. Hamilton

seconded the motion. He thought that the motion of the hon. Member for Kilkenny was the commencement of the best Sabbath-day bill that had been brought before the House. Sunday was the only day which the working classes had for the improvement of their minds, and, instead of closing the Museum and the National Gallery on that day, they ought to open these places, so as to seduce the working classes from the beer-shops.

Sir R. Inglis

said, he had hoped that her Majesty's Government, as the representatives for the time being of the interests of religion in that House, would have thought it necessary to say a few words upon an occasion like the present. Although nothing could be further from the concerns of party than the motion of the hon. Member for Kilkenny, yet he did think that the occasion was one in which the Government ought to have felt it to be their duty to interfere for the purpose of preventing the success of any such proposition. There was no part of the speech of the hon. Member opposite which more surprised him than the delusion by which he appeared to be carried away, when he said, that his proposition was calculated to improve morality and promote religion, that its tendency would be to elevate the religious character of the people. One tendency of it undoubtedly would be to violate what the hon. Member might call the unfounded prejudices, but what he should call the conscientious convictions, of the people of England. The hon. mover said, he did not wish to do anything calculated to desecrate the Sabbath; but let the House recollect, that the hon. Member assumed that the Sabbath might be subdivided, and that one portion of it might be given to profane purposes, if another were devoted to religion. Where in the divine law did anything of that sort appear? What authority was there for assuming, that a day in seven was set apart in order that one moiety of it should be given to public amusements and the other to religious exercises? The hon. Member for the present confined himself to the British Museum and the National Gallery; but would he, or those who thought with him, stop there? Would they not demand admission for the public to the Tower, and to all other places which were supposed to be national property? He therefore regarded this as the first step towards opening all sorts of public exhibitions, and the effect of such a measure would be to render it compulsory upon all the officers of those institutions to labour upon that day which we were bound religiously to observe as a day of rest. Bakers worked on Sundays, but it was for the purpose of preventing the necessity of labour on the part of a great many other persons far exceeding them in number; but what justification could be set up for compelling the officers of public institutions to labour on Sunday? The great question at issue was, whether that House would by an address solemnly call upon her Majesty to sanction for the first time—yes for the first time—by the authority of the Crown what he would call a systematic desecration of the Sabbath. The hon. Member had said, that the English alone were held up to the opprobrium of the whole world for narrow-mindedness and bigotry. What the hon. Member meant by that sentence, he (Sir R. Inglis) did not clearly understand. If he intended to say, that there was no other State wherein the Sabbath was observed as well as in England, in the State nearest to us, in Holland, the Sabbath was observed as well as it was in this country. He denied, that it was a question at all to be settled upon the principles of the Rule of Three. The returns of the British Museum showed that the opening the doors for a greater number of hours did not necessarily secure the attendance of a greater number of visitors, for it appeared, that comparatively small numbers were admitted in the new hours. In fact the indulgence had not been sought by the great body of the people. The question was, not whether more persons would visit those establishments if thrown open upon the Sundays, but whether a system should be commenced, for the first time, by which the Lord's Day should be treated as a common one—by which, as far as the amusements of the people are concerned, there should be no difference between the Sunday and the Monday. The proposition, even as it stood at present, violated the sanctity of the Sabbath, and although the motion of the hon. Member was confined to opening the public establishments after divine service, next year they would be thrown open altogether. He trusted, that the better sense and better principle of the House would lead them to join with him in meeting the motion with a direct negative.

Mr. Warburton

said, that such an observance of the Sunday as the arguments of the hon. Member for Oxford would tend to, had never been practised in this country. Very few persons scrupled to visit the private galleries of their friends on a Sunday; and if there were any who denied themselves this pleasure, they formed a very inconsiderable number. The poorer classes had no opportunities of that sort; and it was scarcely fair to permit such enjoyments to the rich, and to deny them to (he poor. Now, with regard to the observance of the Sabbath by other parties than the working classes, he would merely observe, that it was only the other day that at a meeting of the shareholders of the Zoological Gardens, a motion to close those gardens on a Sunday, was negatived by a large majority. It was well known to all, that during the reign of George 3rd, one of the most religious Monarchs that ever sat on the Throne, the terrace at Windsor Castle was the resort for many hundreds of visitors on a Sunday. There, on that day, the King, surrounded by members of his family, usually paraded, while a military band of music played every Sunday. Now, whether Would such a parade or a visit to the British Musuem, in which so many wonders of nature were exhibited, be most likely to raise a religious feeling in the spectator? He said, that the parade was less likely to do this; and, therefore, he thought, that the admittance of the public to the institutions alluded to would be more desirable than attendance at the parade. The right hon. Baronet said, that if they opened the National Gallery and the British Museum, the servants of these institutions would lose a portion of their Sundays. But what did the hon. Member say to the hundreds of thousands of people who were out in London on a Sunday, and to the necessity of their having a larger police force on that day? According to the right hon. Baronet, they ought in consequence to lock up all the people on Sunday. He (Mr. Warburton) thought, that if they opened these institutions to the public between the hours of divine service, it would tend to check vice, and be much more likely to raise a religious feeling in the people when they did visit the church. He would, therefore, support the motion of his hon. Friend, the Member for Kilkenny, as he agreed with the hon. Member opposite, that it was the best bill for the better observance of the Sunday which had yet been introduced.

Mr. Goulburn

said, far from the resolution proposed being the best mode of securing the proper observance of the Sabbath, it would tend to desecrate a day which every religious man would like to see kept sacred. It was the commencement of a recognition on the part of the House of Commons, that places of amusement were to be opened on the Sabbath-day, and if they consented to it in the present instance, they might ultimately come to see every place of amusement opened on that day to the public. The hon. Member for Bridport said, that those who were opposed to the motion were not consistent in their opposition. He said, that the rich drove in their carriages on Sunday, and that, therefore, they were bound to consent to the desecration of that day to the utmost possible degree. What was the practice some fifteen or twenty years ago? The same facilities were not afforded them to the public as they enjoyed now in going either to the British Museum or to the National Gallery, even in the week-days. In 1825, the number of persons who visited the British Museum was 79,000; in 1832 the number was 99,000; and in 1839, the number was 383,000. Now, according to the argument of the hon. Member for Bridport, in proportion as the number of visitors to the British Museum increased, the quantity of spirit consumed ought to diminish. But how stood the fact? In 1825, when the number of visitors was 79,000, the quantity of spirits consumed was 17½ millions of gallons; and in 1839, when the number of visitors was 383,000, the consumption of spirits was 29 millions of gallons, The argument of the hon. Gentleman, therefore, was good for nothing, as showing the effect of opening these places of amusement in diminishing habits of drunkenness. On the contrary these statistical facts proved that in proportion as facilities had been afforded, even on lawful days, to the public to visit these places, drunkenness had increased. The argument, therefore, would be, that so far from diminishing drunkenness by opening the British Museum on an unlawful day—the Sabbath—it would contribute to the increase of that vice. The principle upon which the Legislature allowed public-houses to be opened during certain hours of the Sabbath was obviously very distinct from any that could possibly be made apply to places of amusement. The principle, and the only principle upon which the Legislature sanctioned the opening of public-houses on a Sunday was, that it was necessary that the people should have the opportunity of obtaining those articles that were essential to support life. If this sanction was abused, it was only owing to the imperfection of human legislation. But amusement of a certain description was not essentially necessary to life; and the Legislature had no right to hold out to the public that amusements of this kind were a part of the lawful business of the Sabbath. The recognition of such a principle would be fatal, both to the character of the country, and to the happiness of its people. He, therefore, should oppose the motion of the hon. Member, as the first step towards a most pernicious system of legislation.

Lord John Russell

found it very difficult to argue this question upon the comparative harm or innocence of particular kinds of amusement or places of recreation. The hon. Member for Bridport had gone on to state that so and so was allowed—that no objection was made against persons walking in the Park, or going to the Zoological Gardens, or to their visiting private galleries of pictures on the Sabbath. He did not contest in any way the views of the hon. Gentleman with regard to these examples. But precisely the same argument might be urged in any future year, should the present motion be acceded to, by quoting the very instance now contended for. It might be said, "Why, you allow the British Museum and the National Gallery to be opened on the Sunday, surely there can be no harm in having some place opened where the rational drama may be enacted." Yes, it might be said, the people were admitted to the British Museum, and the other places of amusement, and, therefore, the same line of argument that was now used by his hon. Friend in favour of this motion, would, be used, after the motion was carried, in favour of almost anything else on the Sabbath, which they did not consider was in itself vicious on a weekday. By acceding to the present motion they would be obliged, also, in consistency, to admit of other amusements on the Sabbath, until, in fact, there would at last be no difference between the observance of that day, and any other day in the week. At the same time he did not defend the consistency of the present practice in every particular amusement that was now permitted on the Sunday. But what he said was this, that when the House of Commons was called upon to adopt a motion, and their concurrence was asked to a principle grounded upon the amusements that were already permitted on the Sunday, it would lay the foundation for similar motions hereafter. He, therefore, contended that it was not advisable to admit of a practice which, though it was in itself not objectionable, inevitably had an objectionable tendency; because it was obvious that the tendency of the present motion was to say, that Sunday was a day on which all exhibitions might be opened. He did not mean to say that either legislation, or the manners of the country, with reference to the observance of the Sabbath, or the regulations of public amusements were at present perfect, but he certainly was opposed to giving the sanction of a vote of the House of Commons, or the additional sanction of the Crown, to that which he deemed objectionable in point of tendency. The hon. Gentleman's motive in proposing this resolution no doubt was exceedingly good; and a great deal of what he said every body must agree with, particularly as to the advantages to be derived from creating a taste among the people, and developing their intellects by giving them more laudable pursuits; and that as their understandings were enlarged, and their knowledge increased, vicious and low tastes would be eradicated. But when the hon. Gentleman said, that for that purpose it was necessary that the Sunday should be chosen, and that that should be the day for these improvements of the general taste of the people to be made, he thought the hon. Gentleman would cease to make it an object of general and universal concurrence, but would separate the public into two parties. The one party would say, "We think it very desirable to pursue this object," while the other would say, "We admit the object to be highly commendable, but we are afraid that, in proposing to attain that object by the mode you suggest, you will be guilty of a desecration of the Sabbath." He (Lord J. Russell), therefore, thought it better not to argue a question of this kind in Parliament, but to allow that progress to be made in ameliorating the position of the humbler classes, and improving their tastes, which was now gradually going on with the general assent of the country. The motion of the hon. Gentleman was rather curiously worded. He, started the British Museum and the 'National Gallery against the licensed victuallers. Now, supposing the House should have no objection with regard to the principle and tendency of the motion, he was not quite sure, in point of fact, whether, if a greater number of people visited the British Museum—after going through all the rooms—the licensed victuallers would not find some advantage in placing very near the doors of the Museum their establishments. And, as it was very much the custom of this country, when there was an exhibition, and the people made a holiday of it, as they called it, that after seeing the sight, they went to some place of entertainment, where refreshments might be had, he was not quite sure that instead of starting these exhibitions against the licensed victuallers and the gin shops, the proprietors of those places would not find that they were getting a good deal more custom on a Sunday than they had before.

Mr. Aglionby

did not understand the argument of the noble Lord, founded upon what he supposed to be the tendency of the proposition before the House. In his opinion the tendency of it, if adopted, would be to give the people better habits and better tastes. But the noble Lord was apprehensive that it would have some indirect and remote tendency to introduce other amusements on the Sabbath; and thus ultimately assimilate the Sabbath to the other days of the week. No doubt to the extent of opening the British Museum and National Gallery, this would have such a tendency; but it would be in the smallest possible point. But the noble Lord went further, and said—"I have no objection to the motion in itself, but I object to it because it may hereafter be urged in favour of some other proposition—for admitting of some further amusement on the Sabbath." And why should it not? Why should not each case rest upon its own merits? He would not relax any regulation where the relaxation of it would be improper, but he could not go the length which the noble Lord had done, and say, "I admit that the opening of the British Museum on the Sunday is not wrong in itself, but I oppose such an arrangement, because it may, by possibility, have a very remote tendency to the adoption of other arrangements that may be in themselves wrong." The noble Lord, therefore, would not go step by step, and allow each case to rest upon its own merits. He thought this no sound argument, and he called upon the noble Lord, if he saw nothing wrong in the motion, to agree to it; and that if at any future time any other proposition should be made that was wrong, then he was at perfect liberty to oppose it.

Mr. Muntz

could see no difference between persons going to the British Museum and to the Zoological-gardens of a Sunday. In the one case they saw the images of animals, and in the other they saw the animals themselves. The question seemed to him to be this; whether, if this proposition was adopted, those who now went to places of public worship would be drawn from them to go to the British Museum. He thought not, but he thought that many of those persons who never went to church or chapel, but resorted to places from which they had much better keep away, would, if it were open to them, go to the British Museum, and be thereby improved in their tastes and habits.

The House divided—Ayes44; Noes 82; Majority 38.

List of the AYES.
Aglionby, H. A. Muntz, G. F.
Ainsworth, P, Nagle, Sir R.
Blake, W. J. Norreys, Sir D. J.
Bridgeman, H. Oswald, J.
Brotherton, J. Paget, F.
Bryan, G. Pechell, Caplain
Callaghan, D. Philips, M.
Clive, E. B. Rawdon, Col. J. D.
Collins, W. Redington, T. N.
Darlington, Earl of Stewart, J.
Dennison, W. J. Stuart, Lord J.
Dick, Quintin Stock, Dr.
Duncombe, T. Strutt, E.
Eliot, Lord Thornely, T.
Euston, Earl of Vigors, N. A.
Evans, Sir De Lacy Villiers, hon. C. P.
Fielden, J. Warburton, H.
Ferguson, R. Williams, W.
Fitzsimon, N. Wood, B.
Hector, C. J. Yates, J. A.
Hutton, R.
Langlon, W. G. TELLERS.
Lynch, A. H. Hamilton, Mr.
Martin, J. Hume, Mr.
List of the NOES.
Acland, T. D. Blackett, C.
Ashley, Lord Blackstone, W. S.
Baines, E. Blair, J. B.
Baldwin, C. B. Botfield, B.
Baring, rt. hon. F. T. Broadwood, H.
Barnard, E. G. Brodie, W. B.
Bewes, T. Cantilupe, Lord Visct.
Clerk, Sir G. Lincoln, Earl of
Corry, hon. H. Lowther, J. H.
Courtenay, P. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Cowper, hon. W. F. Mackenzie, T.
Dalrymple, Sir A. Mackinnon, W. A.
Douglas, Sir C. E. Maule, hon. F.
Dunbar, G. Meynell, Captain
Egerton, W. T. Mildmay, P. St. J.
Estcourt, T. Morpeth, Viscount
Farnham, E. B. Morris, D.
Ferguson, Sir It. A. Packe, C. W.
Fremantle, Sir T. Patten, J. W.
Freshfield, J. W. Perceval, Colonel
Gillon, W. D. Pigot, D. R.
Gladstone, W. E. Protheroe, E.
Greene, T. Richards, R.
Greenaway, C. Rushout, G.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Russell, Lord J.
Grimsditch, T. Rutiierfurd, rt. hn. A.
Grimston, Viscount Sandon, Lord Visct.
Hamilton, Lord C. Seymour, Lord
Harcourt, G. G. Sheppard, T.
Hayes, Sir E. Smith, R. V.
Heathcote, G. J. Somerset, Lord G.
Hope, hon. C. Stanley, hon. E. J.
Hope, G. W. Sugden, rt. hn. Sir E.
Hoskins, K. Teignmouth, Lord
Houstoun, G. Tufnell, H.
Hurt, F. Turner, E.
Ingham, R. Verney, Sir H.
Jackson, Mr. Sergeant Wilmot, Sir J. E,
Knight, H. G. Wyndham, W.
Knightley, Sir C.
Lambton, H. TELLERS.
Langdale, hon. C. Inglis, Sir R. H.
Lennox, Lord A. Goulburn, Mr.
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