HC Deb 12 July 1848 vol 100 cc449-60

Order for Committee read.

On the question that the Speaker do now leave the chair,


rose to move, pursuant to notice— That this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee. The hon. Member for Ashton-under-Line (Mr. Hindley), although perfectly aware of the notice he (Mr. Wall) had given to resist this Bill by a substantive Motion, had at half-past 2 o'clock on the morning of Saturday se'nnight, when the House was just breaking up, and when there were not twenty Members present, moved the second reading of this Bill in a voice scarcely audible. In fact, although he was not twenty paces from the hon. Member, he had not heard him. It was on this account that he was now obliged to bring forward his Motion on the Order of the Day for going into Committee, in place of the second reading, which was the more usual course, and which be would have preferred. The existing law regulating Sunday trading was based upon the Act of Charles II., which prohibited the sale, or exposure for sale on Sunday, of all wares or merchandise, with the exception of milk and mackerel: that was the law at present, but the interpretation of the law, so far as he could ascertain, had depended very much on the individual feeling of different magistrates, and was by no means uniform. Though opposed to the present Bill, he was very far from being opposed to a satisfactory regulation of Sunday trading, for he thought the law was in a very defective state, and that if some hon. and learned Member had taken up the question, he might have made something of it, and produced a Bill worthy of the consideration of Parliament. He did not think the evidence taken before the Committee was sufficient to justify the House in passing such a measure as the present. The statements made by the various witnesses were so contradictory that they neutralised each other. The senior churchwarden of Lambeth gave very fluctuating evidence, sometimes tending to show that Sunday trading was an unmitigated evil, and sometimes so modifying his views by exceptions in favour of the sale of different articles, and at certain hours of the day, that the evil almost vanished and became nil. The chief mischiefs, as described by him, were the obstruction of the thoroughfares, inferiority of the goods, and an increase of the prices. So greatly did those prevail in the New Cut, Lambeth, that, according to this gentleman, all the religious, moral, and social feelings of the people in that neighbourhood were paralysed. Still the senior churchwarden recommended that a variety of articles should be permitted to be sold on a Sunday. He did not understand these nice distinctions. If one set of shops were to be closed, all ought to be closed; but as it was impossible to close all, then what should be done was, that all should be placed under strict police regulations, to be devised and applied by the most learned and eminent men in the profession of the law, without any special enactment as to the shops being opened or closed on that day. Then came the evidence of Charles James—not of London, but of Lambeth—who in many respects followed the devious course of the senior churchwarden, leaving the Committee perfectly at liberty to draw whatever conclusion they pleased favourable or otherwise to the measure. One of the points which it was laboured throughout the Committee to demonstrate was this—that Parliament could not satisfactorily come to any conclusion upon this subject until they had struck from the Statute-book the Act of Charles II. He ventured to put the following question to Mr. C. Pearson, the Member for Lambeth, who was examined before the Committee:— Am I mis-stating or overstating your opinion with regard to the Act of Charles II., that it is useless and mischievous? To which that hon. Gentleman answered— No, it is useless when not in force, and mischievous when in force. But the question, after all, for the House to consider was—when they had got rid of one Act, how were they to frame another? As the Act of Charles II. gave satisfaction to the working classes, and had been the law of the land so long a time, he did not think it was desirable to repeal it now. He had placed himself in communication with the postmasters in the poorer districts of London, who stated that the number of letters written on Sunday was nearly double that of any other day of the week. The poor man almost invariably bought his sheet of paper on Sunday, and put his letter in the post on Sunday night. Now, the House could not put this down, and it would be better to tolerate this purchase of a sheet of letter-paper, than to subject it to the fluctuating digestion of magistrates and policemen. The Act of Charles II., if carried out to its full extent, prohibited other things besides Sunday trading, as was proved by a case related by Mr. Peacock, where some parties who had been prosecuted for Sunday trading took out an information against the vicar's coachman for driving his master to church on Sunday. The information was taken out at Hatton-garden, and the coachman would inevitably have been convicted, but for some technical informality in the information. The effect of these proceedings was to keep every carriage from Islington church for some time, as he was informed by a person who lay in wait for them, to lay another information. The magistrate held it punishable, under the Act of Charles II., to drive a private carriage on Sunday, unless it could be shown that it was an act of necessity. He objected almost to the whole of the Bill now before the House; but his main objections were, first, that the preamble stated what was not proved by the evidence, namely, that the public thoroughfares were at present greatly obstructed during divine service. The law of Charles II. was not rigidly acted on, for the good sense of the public would not allow it. Nor would the present Bill be more successful. He defied all the policemen in creation—nay, but that he feared being called to order by the Speaker, he would say that he would defy any Act of Parliament to carry into effect the provisions of a Bill like the present. He knew the tenacity of life of orange boys and orange women, who went about selling these articles. These itinerant vendors all belonged to the lower classes, and they would have them all in the parochial workhouses, and must also maintain an increased police force if they really hoped to put them down. But the attempt would fail. The hon. Member (Mr. Hindley) might perhaps for the first six months see twenty in a hundred fewer than at present; yet so deeply rooted in the minds of the people was the feeling that they were to have their comforts on a Sunday as well as on a Monday, that the hon. Gentleman's complaints would soon be as loud as ever if his Act should pass. He believed that hon. Members would not support such a Bill but for the little communication they had with their poorer constituents, and the little knowledge they possessed of their wants and wishes. The Bill proposed to raise the penalties for Sunday trading from 5s. to 20s.; and the pith and marrow of the Bill was, that after the third conviction every person would be liable to a penalty of 20s. for every separate act of trading upon any Sunday. It was too late in the present Session to entertain a Bill having the present object; and if the House were to be called to legislate upon it next Session he hoped the Home Office would take up the matter in the recess, and prepare a measure. Because the present law was inoperative, it was no reason for allowing a peddling and imperfect measure like the present to pass, which could only be vexatious in its operation, and which could exercise no effect whatever in changing the social and moral habits of the people.


seconded the Amendment, and denounced the Bill as a petty and peddling interference with the comforts and amusements of the working classes, while it left those of the rich entirely untouched. Hon. Members who belonged to the Reform or Conservative Club could continue to get anything they required between 10 and 1 o'clock in the day, for no interference with those clubhouses was proposed by the Bill. If the rich continued to use their carriages and horses on Sundays—if they continued to give large dinner parties, to which guests were invited from all parts of the town—did the Bill touch any of these proceedings, although the givers of these feasts could as well give and their guests as well receive them on any other day? No; but when there was only one day in which the humbler classes could go upon their little expeditions and excursions in the country to get a little fresh air, then they endeavoured to prevent them. The Bill absolutely prohibited the sale of tea and coffee at all, at stands, during the whole of Sunday. No bottled beer or porter could be sold at these stands, nor even biscuits or bread. If they did not venture to touch the club-houses of the great, was it fair to come down upon these vendors of small matters, and put them under the harrows of the hon. Member's legislation, by making them liable to cumulative penalties, varying in amount as a justice of the peace might think these offences were more or less deserving of punishment? He was not sure whether the Bill would not prevent the poor man from going into a shop to be shaved, or from sending his dinner to the bakehouse, whereby a hundred women were saved the labour of cooking the Sunday dinner. In no country in Europe was the Sabbath better observed than in England.


had not rested satisfied with the accounts of others, but had gone to satisfy himself as to the fact of Sunday trading in the localities which were much frequented by the working classes; and he had witnessed the great extent to which that description of traffic was carried on. He was in favour of the principle of the Bill.


said, that the object of the Bill was not to interfere merely on the score of religion, but to put an end to the immense labour and toil which Sunday trading caused to tradesmen and those whom they employed. He (Sir De Lacy Evans) did not know of any measure which was so generally supported by the tradesmen amongst his constituents.


, as one who had been persecuted for his opinions on the subject of Sabbath observance, if exclusion from that House for many years was to be considered persecution, wished to be allowed to say a few words; and in so doing he begged to assure the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hindley) who had introduced the Bill, that he was quite ready to concur in going into Committee, provided the hon. Gentleman would agree in opposing the oppressive enactments attempted to be forced upon the public under the pretence of Sabbath observance. He was one who thought Sabbatical observance according to the Jewish law prohibited to Christians; and in this he was supported by the Confession of Augsburg, in maintenance of which our fathers and the early Protestants laid down their lives. The Church of England, too, which was the Church of the majority, had taken this view, as evidenced by the fact, that in all her catechism there was not one attempt to enforce the duty of Sabbatical observance; and leading men among her teachers, as Paley, Arnold, and Whatelcy, avowed the same. But as a political institution, he believed, like them, that a day of rest was a useful institution; and he was ready to support the hon. Gentleman if he would make his Bill accessary to the practical settlement of a question which would otherwise at some time end in mischief. For example, he trusted the hon. Gentleman would not think of such an absurdity as preventing common bakehouses from acting on the Sunday, where the truth was that one man staid at home to cook, in order that fifty might have their time at their own disposal; that he would allow no interference with reading-rooms, or places for the sale of stamped periodicals; that there would be no persecution for shaving or blacking shoes, for it had always been held that cleanliness was next to godliness; and that there would be no impediments thrown in the way of the weary citizen's recreating himself and family by means of hired carriages or animals of any kind. If the hon. Mover would attend to points like these, he might do a public service by his Bill.


said, if the Bill as it now stood was to be persevered in without introducing some provisions which should put the higher classes of the community on the same footing with the other classes—if it was to be merely an exclusive Bill, interfering with the privileges, advantages, and amusements of the lower orders of society—then he should say it was a most objectionable measure. On the other hand, if it was intended to put all classes upon the same footing, and to enact that no Peer, Member of Parliament, or person high in society, should enjoy any amusements denied to the poorer classes, then the hon. Member had better withdraw his Bill and introduce another.


assured the hon. Baronet that he was sensible of the necessity for great discretion in dealing with this matter. Last Session he had moved for a Committee of Inquiry into Sunday trading, and the evidence of that Committee showed that 20,000 people in the metropolis were under the necessity of labouring on that day. Yet the hon. Member for Salisbury proposed to throw out this measure, and thereby retain that large number of the population of London in bondage. The evidence taken before the Committee showed that Sunday trading was carried to an immense extent in London, and not in articles of necessity or of a perishable nature, but in articles that might be purchased any day in the week; and would any person say that the people of England wished that Sunday should be a day of trade like other days? He was quite willing to adopt the suggestion of the hon. Alderman behind him (Alderman Sidney), and introduce a clause prohibiting the hawking or exposing for sale on Sundays of articles in places not being the place of residence of the owner; and he was ready to place the jurisdiction over the police in the hands of the commissioners of police, instead of the churchwardens. The good effects of the Police Act, which required that public-houses should be shut up at a certain hour in London, had been so approved, that numerous applications had been made for its extension to all parts of the country. The hon. Member concluded by urging the House to go into Committee on the Bill.


did not think that a private Member of the House ought to legislate upon such a subject. The hon. Member for Ashton, who appeared to set himself up as a monitor or adviser in morals and religion, and the hon. Member for Salford, should inquire into the state of things at Ashton and at Salford, and it would be seen whether those Gentlemen had attempted to set an example of morality and religion there, and whether the same thing of which they complained did not exist at those places. He wanted to have from the hon. Member a list of the parishes in the metropolis which, he said, had applied for this Bill. He was sure Marylebone was not one. Let the House have evidence that the metropolis was worse than other places. It was not just to the poor, who were forced to toil late, and received their wages sometimes at a late hour on Saturday night, to shut the doors against them on Sunday. Why did not the hon. Member change places with them? Let him put himself in the situation of the working man, who could not get his wages until late on Saturday, and then say whether he would advocate the refusal on the Sunday of articles necessary for the support and comfort of himself and his family. It was not by Act of Parliament, it was by example, that this change should be made; and if the parochial officers would set a proper example, they would do more good than could be done by a Bill of this kind, imposing penalties for enforcing what the hon. Member called order, decency, and propriety.


felt disinclined to object to the House going into Committee upon the Bill which had been prepared by the hon. Member, backed as the measure was by the recommendation of a Committee last year, and supported by so many petitions; at the same time, he must say that a careful perusal of the Bill had confirmed the strong impression he had previously felt of the difficulty, if not impossibility, of legislating upon the subject. The Committee which sat last year had taken a great deal of evidence which justified the report they had made, that Sunday trading was carried on to a very great extent in the metropolis. Sunday trading had no doubt increased, and so had the population; but he did not believe that Sunday trading had increased more than in proportion to the increase of the population; on the contrary, he believed that Sunday was better observed; and the observance of Sunday, he thought, was best promoted by the encouragement of moral and religious feelings amongst the community than by legislation. At the same time, he was not prepared to say that it might not be necessary to pass a law to prevent Sunday trading, and to amend the present law. He should certainly not oppose the Motion for going into Committee on the Bill, if he were at all able to see his way in the matter. He was not opposed to the great object which the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had in view; but he must say, as the hon. Gentleman had admitted so many ex- ceptions, he did not exactly understand how they could pass such a Bill. To a great degree the Bill now before them was a reenactment of the Act of Charles II. It did not alter that Act; and in so far as it professed to add to that law, it did not strike his mind that the further enactments were of much use. He was perfectly ready to assent to a principle which he believed to be in perfect accordance with the general feeling of the House, namely, that the possession by the working classes of one day of rest and repose was a very great blessing, not only to them but to all classes; and, so far as his influence went, he should gladly concur with those who exerted themselves to promote an observance of the Sunday. But, if the Bill were pressed, he should object to its being limited to the trading classes—he should strongly recommend the House to leave all classes open to the same legal operation, for otherwise he did not apprehend that this or any other measure would secure for the working classes rest and repose. In the course of the present discussion, he had heard the observance of the Sabbath placed upon a religious principle. He did not object to its resting on that ground; and he thought it highly important that the evils which arose from the non-observance of the Sabbath should be abated in the metropolis; but what he feared was, that the present measure would be inefficient for that purpose. The Bill, however, as it stood, suggested this to his mind, that there ought to be a clause altering the penalty to be incurred by persons trading on Sundays. By the Act of Charles II, open trading in a public market subjected a man to a fine of only 5s.; and, as repeated acts of trading in one day were, in contemplation of law, only one act, traders in such cases might easily realise an amount of profit on any given Sunday much more than enough to cover the penalty of 5s. Further, the clause which imposed upon churchwardens and overseers the duty of carrying out the Act seemed to him most objectionable; and he thought that the hon. Member ought to be prepared to abandon that clause and leave the matter in the hands of the police. Although he considered the hon. Member free from any censure, on account of his having taken charge of the Bill, yet it seemed to him (Sir G. Grey) that there were very grave objections to limiting the measure to a district of fifteen miles round the metropolis. It might be perfectly true that Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, and other great towns, had their local Acts for regulating and enforcing an observance of Sunday, and that the metropolis required something of the sort; yet it should not be forgotten that three of the metropolitan Members had objected to the Bill. For his part, he was very unwilling to set up any opposition that could have the effect of preventing their going into Committee on the Bill, and taking the opinion of the House on the several clauses; but, nevertheless, looking at the different and repeated attempts made to legislate on this subject—looking also at the difficulty of passing any such measure in the present Session of Parliament, he felt disposed to recommend the hon. Member to withdraw the measure, and in the meantime full consideration might be given to the subject.


should be sorry to see this question discussed as a religious question. They might do thus much, they might prevent parties trading themselves, and they might protect those who were disinclined to trade from the injurious competition to which a disregard of Sunday on the part of others exposed them. In Lambeth, from which he received communications, and in Spitalfields, of which he possessed some knowledge, the desecration of Sunday was of the worst character.


said, it was his opinion, and he doubted not it was the opinion of the House also, that the observance of Sunday would be better promoted by the force of a good example on the part of the higher classes, and especially of the higher class of traders, than by anything that mere measures of legislation could effect. He held in his hand evidence taken before a Committee of the House, and the statement of a witness named Boggis was to this effect, that on Sunday he passed near the brewery of Messrs. Truman, Hanbury, Buxton, and Co., situate in Brick-lane, Spitalfields. With that establishment he believed that the hon. Baronet who spoke last was connected. The witness stated, that on the day in question a boy was passing along carrying a basket of dry figs; that the boy was taken up and carried off by the police merely for the offence of crying and selling a few figs, by the profits on which to obtain a morsel of food. That the same witness on the same day, about three o'clock, passing the brewhouse of the hon. Member opposite, heard the clanking of chains in the brewhouse, heard the noise of heavy operations, and witnessed the escape of a great quantity of steam, from which the inference was obvious that there, at all events, there was no rest or repose on the Sunday; but the poor boy was taken into custody because he sold a few figs to procure himself a crust, while a great company carried on the trade of brewing with impunity; and he doubted not that it was so in all breweries. Bearing these facts in mind, and looking at the Bill, he professed himself unable to see how he could give his support to what was so evidently a piece of class legislation. It was well known that at the west end of the town the fishmongers and dealers in ice did a great deal of business on Sundays—that great quantities of ice and pastry were consumed at the clubs and at the mansions of the rich and great; he therefore had resolved to use his best endeavours to have equal justice done to high and low.


never before heard of the accusation brought by the hon. Gentleman against the brewery with which he was connected. He could state with respect to that establishment, that no work was there carried on upon a Sunday, except works of absolute necessity. By far the greater part of the work done on Sundays consisted in the care and feeding of the horses. There were 300 men usually employed on week-days, and he believed there was no establishment in which loss was done on a Sunday than in the brewery at Spitalfields. As to the clanking of the chains to which the witness referred, he might just state that the stables abutted on the street, and that the chains were merely those by which the horses were fastened; and the steam was thus occasioned—it was necessary that the boilers should be raised to a very high temperature, and there was, therefore, a continued escape of steam throughout the day. He would not say that there was absolutely no work done on the Sunday; but every means were taken to render that as little as possible. The watchman was the only person continually on the premises, and he certainly had the means of passing as quiet a Sunday as any one could desire. If the hon. Member opposite would do him (Sir E. Buxton) the favour of visiting the brewery on a weekday and on a Sunday, he could contrast the one with the other; he might hear the clanking of the chains, and he certainly must see that every effort was made to give the working men the full advantage of Sunday.


had taken no part in preparing the measure, though his name stood on the back of the Bill. He did, however, willingly support a proposition calculated to check the progress of Sunday trading; one day in seven ought certainly to be set apart for rest and repose; and when he had the management of a large factory, he never allowed anything to be done on a Sunday, and he believed it to be in the long run the most profitable plan. He should not be deterred by the sneers of those Members who felt pleasure in teaching the people that there was no difference between right and wrong from supporting the Bill, believing, as he did, that it would not interfere in the slightest degree with the liberties of the people.


entirely concurred in the observations of the hon. Member who had last spoken. Still, at this period of the Session, and considering what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, it was his opinion that it would be desirable to withdraw the Bill for the present.


said, that every speech which had been delivered showed that there was great difficulty in legislating on this question. The hon. Baronet (Sir E. Buxton) said, that no work was carried on in his brewery on a Sunday except what was absolutely necessary. But was the plea of necessity to be limited to his case alone? No doubt, too, the boy with the figs was compelled by hard necessity to sell them on a Sunday. He recommended the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Hindley) to withdraw the Bill.

On the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the question, the House divided:—Ayes 75; Noes 47: Majority 28.

List of the AYES.
Alcock, T. Egerton, W. T.
Armstrong, R. B. Elliot, hon. J. E.
Arundel and Surrey, Earl of Farrer, J.
Forbes, W.
Bagge, W. Frewen, C. H.
Baines, M. T. Galway, Visct.
Bentinck, Lord H. Gladstone, rt. hon. W. E.
Blandford, Marq. of Godson, R.
Buller, Sir J. Y. Goulburn, rt. hon. H.
Buxton, Sir E. N. Graham, rt. hon. Sir J.
Campbell, hon. W. F. Greene, T.
Christy, S. Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.
Clay, Sir W. Hall, Sir B.
Clive, H. B. Hamilton, G. A.
Cowan, C. Heald, J.
Dalrymple, Capt. Heathcote, Sir W.
D'Eyncourt, rt. Hon. C. Hodgson, W. N.
Dundas, G. Hood, Sir A.
Kershaw, J. Robartes, T. J. A.
King, hon. P. J. L. Sandars, J.
Lewis, G. C. Seymer, H. K.
Lindsay, hon. Col. Sheridan, R. B.
Lockhart, A. E. Sidney, Ald.
Lockhart, W. Spooner, R.
Lushington, C. Stafford, A.
Mackinnon, W. A. Stuart, Lord D.
Macnaghten, Sir E. Thicknesse, R. A.
McTaggart, Sir J. Thompson, Col.
Manners, Lord G. Tufnell, H.
Maule, rt. hon. F. Vyse, R. H. R. H.
Milner, W. M. E. Watkins, Col.
Moffatt, G. West, F. R.
Monsell, W. Westhead, J. P.
Mullings, J. R. Williams, J.
Napier, J. Wilson, M.
O'Brien, Sir L. Wood, W. P.
Pearson, C.
Perfect, R. TELLERS.
Reid, Col. Hindley, C.
Richards, R. Brotherton, J.
List of theNOES.
Anstey, T. C. Hodges, T. L.
Bailey, J. Howard, P. H.
Berkeley, hon. H. F. Hume, J.
Berkeley, hon. C. F. Lowther, hon. Col.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Mackenzie, W. F.
Brown, W. Maitland, T.
Butler, P. S. Manners, Lord C. S.
Caulfield, J. M. Melgund, Visct.
Cobden, R. Meux, Sir H.
Crawford, W. S. Mitchell, T. A.
Dick, Q. Mostyn, hon. E. M. L.
Divett, E. Mowatt, F.
Ellice, rt. hon. E. Muntz, G. F.
Emlyn, Visct. O'Connor, F.
Fagan, W. Ogle, S. C. H.
Forster, M. Pattison, J.
Fortescue, C. Pechell, Capt.
Fox, W. J. Smith, rt. hon. R. V.
Fuller, A. E. Sturt, H. G.
Gooch, E. S. Thornely, T.
Greene, J. Tynte, Col.
Grenfell, C. W. Worcester, Marq. of
Hallyburton, Lord J. F. TELLERS.
Hastie, A. Slaney, R. A.
Hayter, W. G. Wall, L. B.

The Bill wont through Commitee pro formâ. To be recommitted.