HC Deb 24 July 1850 vol 113 cc191-204

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, stated, it had been brought from the House of Lords too late, he feared, to be passed during the present Session. The Bill had been framed after a searching inquiry before a Committee, and it resembled in its material features the Bill introduced into the House of Commons in the previous Session by the hon. Member for Ashton. That Bill had been likewise the subject of a lengthened investigation by a Committee, and was framed in conformity with the general opinion of its Members. He called upon the House, by reading the Bill a second time, merely to affirm its principle, not to, adopt its details; its object was, as its title proclaimed, to prevent unnecessary trading on Sunday within the metropolitan police district. It might be said to be a measure of police, like the Bill for preventing public-house trading on Sunday till after one o'clock—a measure which was at first confined to the limits of the metropolitan police, but had been subsequently extended to other towns, on account of the benefits it was proved to have conferred upon the community where it had been tried. He hoped the present Bill would likewise prove beneficial, and would lead to the same result. The Bill was founded upon a principle which he believed no one who reflected upon the moral, mental, and physical condition of man would be disposed to controvert—that one day in seven was essential for his rest and recreation. The object of the Bill was, as far as the Legislature could rightfully interpose in such matters, to secure to him this privilege, leaving it to his own conscience, as a matter between himself and his God, how he would dispose of his time. He supposed the Bill would be ridiculed as puritanical; a very small modicum of secondhand wit, borrowed from the great satirist of the seventeenth century, would at any time suffice to raise a laugh against any object, however useful, if popularly stigmatised as canting and puritanical. It had been attempted to create a prejudice against this Bill, by representing it as intended to enforce the Sabbatarian observances of the Jewish ritual. If this had been the intention of the framers of the Bill, they had signally failed of their object, for it excepted from its operation a number of acts which were as much forbidden by the Jewish law as those which it was the real object of the Bill to repress. The real object of the Bill was, to provide, as far as legislation could accomplish it, that one day in seven should be protected from secular work—he might say from compulsory work; fruit was absurd to pretend that a small shopkeeper in the crowded parts of this vast metropolis could act as a free agent in the appropriation of his Sunday, for although the law in theory forbade him to exercise his calling on that day, the law was so vague and inefficient that it left him open to the competition of the less scrupulous rival, and an humble tradesman could not obey the law without involving himself and family in ruin. Although he (Mr. Pearson) supported this Bill upon civil grounds alone, he did not undervalue the importance of Sunday as a day devoted to religious services by those whose honour and privilege it was to consecrate it to those objects. From his own numerous and important avocations he was compelled, by stern necessity, to sacrifice many of Ids Sundays to occupations not consistent with the views and feelings of many of his friends, whose scruples he respected and honoured. If an appeal had been made to the numerous class in this country who happily entertained those sentiments, the table of the House would have been loaded with petitions; ho had, however, expressly stated the grounds on which he alone could consistently undertake the advocacy of the Bill, and petitions had been confined to small tradesmen and their shopmen, and other inhabitants, of certain districts, who, it was represented, would be prejudicially affected by the mea sure. It might be said, if those parties were so anxious to abstain from labour, why did they not do it without asking for Parliament to compel them? The fact was, that they had made the attempt, but found it impracticable. During the first Sunday all the shops in the streets where the attempt was made were shut: on the second Sunday, one or two reopened, in consequence of finding their customers withdrawn by rival tradesmen in the adjoining districts; and on the third Sunday they were all obliged, in self-defence, to reopen their shops, and recur to a practice they were desirous of abstaining from, because they found they not only lost the Sunday trade, but that their customers were induced to go on other days to those shops where they were accommodated on the Sundays. One of the petitioners in favour of the Bill was Mr. Groves, a well-known clothier, who stated that he drew no less than 400l. each Sunday at his different shops, but that he was willing to shut those shops on Sunday, and take his chance of getting his fair share of business through the week, provided that others were compelled to shut their shops likewise. Mr. Groves stated that he had a number of young men in his employment, whom, under the present system, he was compelled to deprive of the advantages of rest and recreation, as well as Divine worship, mi the Sunday; and In: and his family were equally deprived of them. He (Mr. Pearson) advocated the measure, because he considered that whatever tended to give the industrious class one day of rest out of the seven, would be beneficial to the community. As to the details, there were some which he was prepared to abandon, and others to modify; but the consideration of them he should postpone until the Committee on the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


opposed the Motion, as his hon. and learned Friend had utterly failed to make out any reason for changing a law which had existed for 200 years, and which was therefore well known to the people of this country. He had some difficulty in opposing the measure, as he believed it had come down from the House of Lords with the unanimous consent of that House; but it ought to he understood that it was founded upon the report of a Committee, the witnesses before which seemed to devote themselves to casting abuse upon the witnesses that were examined before the Commons' Committee, rather than to prove the merits of the Bill. The chief author of this Bill was a Mr. Hayman, one of the witnesses before the Lords' Committee, who put himself forward as a sort of confidential agent—a sort of unpaid solicitor of the Home Office under the late and present Administrations.


I don't recollect any such person.


I never heard the name.


Well, Mr. Hayman, at all events, stated in his evidence that he had been besought at various times, by the Home Office, to prepare a measure on the subject, adding, that the only opposition to the measure was to be apprehended from Chartists and Jews. Now, the father of the Bill was the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, whose absence he was sure the House regretted. He (Mr. B. Wall) had been a Member of that House for thirty-three years, and he believed it would be admitted he had never been very mischievous or troublesome, or in the habit of offering unfair opposition to any measures. He had passed through many political phases, but he had never contemplated putting himself at the head of the Chartist body. But the father of this Bill had, on the other hand, voted for the Charter. So far, therefore, as Chartism was concerned, its influence was rather in favour of the Bill than against it. However, as the gentleman was repudiated by both the right hon. Baronets, he would not dwell further upon his evidence. He would proceed to examine the evidence tendered by the other witnesses before the Committee of the House of Lords. But he did not rely upon the evidence given either on the one side or on the other. As far as he had examined the question, he believed it to be a question between the higher and the lower classes of tradesmen; the higher orders being for shutting the shops, and the lower against it. He laid great stress, however, upon such evidence as was given by Mr. Commissioner Mayne, who deposed to the great improvement that had lately taken place in Sunday trading, and deprecated the present Bill as likely to impede the course of improvement that was still going on. With regard to the Scripture argument, he maintained that, whatever the Jewish mode of observing the Sabbath might be, the directions contained in the New Testament were so vague, and were so variously interpreted, that they could not safely be depended upon. The title of this Bill was inefficient, and its preamble was false. The title was inefficient, because he could not agree to have a law made for the metropolis which was not to apply to the whole country. He objected to the Bill as a religious Bill, because it had no religion at all. He objected to it as a social Bill, because it interfered with all the relations of social life. He objected to it as a partial Bill, because it touched some trades and exempted others. They durst not touch the licensed victuallers, because they were too powerful; but the small traders, who lived in out-of-the-way alleys, were to be dealt with without mercy. He objected particularly to the clause affecting hairdressers. Hairdressing was a sanitary requirement; and it was absurd in the last degree to allow a man to shave himself at home, while he was forbidden to shave himself at a shop. There were many other clauses of a similar kind; and, upon the whole, he never knew a more petty and vexatious instance of legislation. Upon these grounds, and from no feeling of indifference to the proper observance of the Sabbath, he could not consent to the second reading of the Bill; and he called upon the House to support him in his Motion, that the Bill be read a second time that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."


seconded the Amendment.


said, as he was under no apprehension of being charged with superstitious reverence for anti-Christian error, he felt quite at liberty to vote for the second reading of the Bill, if the hon. Mover would aid in securing to the public those conveniences in it which they had a right to expect, and which, if not secured to them by law, they would take without law. The course of recent legislation on those subjects had been to do more harm than good. He would mention an instance in his own experience. He had a gardener, a respectable family man, who was in the habit of passing the Sunday at his own home; but since the new Post-office regulations, he was obliged to invite his gardener, whenever he wanted to save the Monday's morning post, to go to London to post his letters. And twenty of his neighbours were probably doing the same; and this was called a measure to diminish Sunday labour. He had a great horror of these perverse pieces of legislation. But he did not know whether he ought to conceal what the casuits would call an esoteric opinion, that this Bill was permissive rather than prohibitory, and consequently its passing would be more of a blow to the Sabbatarian heresy than its rejection; for which reason, under the proviso stated, he should support the second reading.


said, that, having consulted his constituents and conversed with many tradesmen on the subject, he was forced to the conclusion that this measure contained a proposition that was only reasonable, just, and fair. If Gentlemen would take the trouble to go to Lambeth on a Sunday morning, they would find more trading going on than in any day of the week, and not only in provisions, but in clothing. It was a Sunday fair and Sunday market held in different parts of London. He did not pretend to a puritanical spirit; but he must, say it was a gross injustice to the respectable tradesmen in Lambeth, and other parts where this trading was carried, on not to pass this Bill.


said, he would join issue with the general statements of the hon. Gentlemen who had just addressed the House. This was not a Bill to restrain Sunday fairs; it was not a Bill to carry out the principle of the Bill which had already received the Royal Assent, and which was intended to put down fairs, which used to be held for the purpose of hiring servants, but had become mere idle gatherings. By this Bill persons were prohibited from selling on a Sunday. This applied to the poor, but it did not apply to the higher classes—those who were called upon by their tradesmen. Their was a clause which provided that any meat, fish, poultry, or game might be left at houses before 9 o'clock in the morning. It was impossible to misunderstand the meaning of this distinction. It was a distinction between the rich and the poor. Go further, where was the clause for shutting up clubs on a Sunday, and where was the clause that forbid servile work? There was a clause exempting servants from the operation of the Act. Only that he did not like to do evil that good might come, he would follow the example of the hon. and gallant Member for Bradford, and vote for the Bill, in order that the evil effects of it might be seen, and that these evil effects might have a tendency to put this matter in its true light. If there were any reasons which would induce him to come to a different conclusion, it would be the hope that if the Bill passed the result would be a reaction of the common sense of the country, so well founded and so strong as to sweep away every vestige, not only of this absurd Bill, but, of all other idle and impertinent measures of Sunday legislation. Believing, however, that now was the time for making a stand against the present Sabbatarian movement—a movement which was begun in hypocrisy, and was now carried on by the power of, fraud and ignorance—he would vote against the second reading of the Bill.


said, that notwithstanding the observations which had been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, in a somewhat vehement tone, against this Bill, he hoped the House would give its assent to the second reading. He did not pledge himself to the approval of every; clause in the Bill, but he thought the House ought at least to afford an opportunity for the discussion of the details in Committee. He wished to advocate the: Bill, not upon religious grounds, but solely upon civil, and what where called social, considerations. The measure was one which he believed would be exceedingly acceptable to many of the inhabitants of the metropolis. Its object was to free people from the necessity now imposed upon them of working on Sundays as well as on other days, and to allow them the Sabbath to devote to religious duties, or to the enjoyment of that recreation of which they were now deprived. He greatly regretted that the House had adopted a resolution which had led to the closing of all post-offices on the Sunday, because ho regarded that as an interference with necessary duties; but this Bill was only intended to regulate Sunday trading, and to prevent persons from transacting business that was altogether unnecessary. With regard to the amount of labour performed in the metropolis on the Sunday, he could state that in many parts of the borough he had the honour to represent, as much trading was carried on during the hours of divine service on Sunday, as they could see in any part of London on any week day. Believing that this measure would have a tendency to promote the comfort and moral improvement of the people, and particularly of the working classes, he would give his vote for the second reading of the Bill.


said, that as the representative of a large metropolitan district, he thought it right that the metropolitan Members should, as far as possible, put the Government and the House in possession of the feelings of their constituents with reference to this question. He should be one of the last that would wish to interfere with the enjoyment of Christian liberty; but looking at this measure as affecting solely the civil and social condition of the people, and as in no degree infringing that liberty which every man had a right to enjoy under a Government like our own, he was decidedly in favour of it, and the more so, because for the last two years he had been in communication with persons in the Tower Hamlets on this very subject. He should make no observations on the details of the Bill; his remarks would apply solely to the principle of the Bill. It, was a Bill for the prevention of unnecessary trading in this metropolis. It could not be denied that there was a vast amount of unnecessary trading in London on the Sunday. Owing to the circumstance of shops being left open on the Sunday, persons of dissolute habits resorted at all hours of the day to these shops, to procure those articles which might with ease be obtained on the Saturday night, or at all events before ten on the Sunday morning. The evils that were connected with Sunday trading were innumerable. He did not hesitate to say that he could direct the attention of Members of that House to a hundred localities within the Tower Hamlets, which were nothing more nor less than nuisances on the Sunday, and not at any particular hour, but at all hours. Now this Bill would allow all purchases that were necessary to be made. It would allow purchases that were not absolutely necessary to be made before nine, and in other cases till ten, while certain trades were allowed to be carried on the whole of Sunday. He believed that the tradesmen of the metropolis were on the whole in favour of this measure. He believed there were many hundreds who would willingly, if they could, close their shops on the Sunday, or, at all events, at an early hour in the morning, so that they might at any rate attend divine worship. But what was the fact? Many shopkeepers actually took more money during a few hours of the Sunday than in the whole of the week besides; and if the shopkeeper were to close on the Sunday, he would lose half his profits. Then, again, he asked them to pass this Bill on behalf of the working classes themselves. It would tend to prevent a great imposition on them. He had it on the authority of metropolitan tradesmen that they could charge a halfpenny or a penny a pound more on the Sunday than they could on any other day, and the worst articles were reserved for Sundays. These were the views that he entertained of this Bill: he did not pledge himself to all the details of the Bill. He wished to allow to all the greatest amount of religious liberty; but he thought they were called upon to carry such a measure as this, both for the sake of the tradesmen on the one hand, and the working classes on the other.


said, he had had the honour of representing Lambeth for many years, and he believed that the great majority of all classes were in favour of a measure which would place some restriction upon Sunday trading. He was far from saying that all were agreed, but he was perfectly sure that the shopkeepers generally were in favour of putting some restriction, and a considerable restriction, on Sunday trading. This Sunday trading began by opening shops early in the morning. Competition drove them on to later hours; and actually up to one or two o'clock in the day he had seen ordinary articles of trade sold on the Sunday. At that time he took the pains to ascertain not only what were the opinions of all classes in Lambeth on the subject, but what were the opinions of other boroughs in the metropolis. There was a very large meeting, and all the metropolitan parishes sent delegates to it, and a deputation proceeded from that meeting to the Home Office. He saw opposite the right hon. Baronet who was at that time the Secretary for the Home Department, and he at least would say that generally in the metropolis there was an opinion in favour of restriction. He was not for an extreme restriction, but they were not now speaking of the details of the Bill. He believed that, after a certain hour certainly, it was the wish of the trading class that all trading on the Sunday should be put an end to. He could not commit himself to the details of the Bill, but he believed that such a Bill was desired by the tradesmen of London generally, and would be acceptable to all classes.


said, he perfectly coincided in the opinions generally expressed in this discussion, that in a social, economical, and even in a physical point of view, the blessing of one day of rest from toil and care was most inestimable. He would cheerfully support a measure tending to secure that object; but he thought it was not an object to be attained, or even to be promoted by a Bill like that before the House. In order to introduce wholesome legislation on such a subject, it would be necessary to look upon society in all its gradations—to consider the relative importance of different modes of procedure to secure the comfort and well-being of the people—to see how the greatest benefit could be secured at the smallest sacrifice. In the very complicated state of society in which we lived, an entire abstinence from business and from trade on the Sunday, was a matter of impossibility. They could only approximate, and that approximation was not to be obtained by a particular opera- tion on some particular class, in some particular locality. They ran the risk in so doing of retarding instead of advancing the progress and general enjoyment of society. Now, the Bill before the House was not a Bill to secure to the great mass of society the enjoyment of the seventh day. It was a Lambeth shopkeepers' Bill, directed against oranges and apples. This was really the character of the Bill. Principle in it there was none, neither religious nor social, nor was there a clause in it but what was marked with the grossest absurdity. They might purchase Dickens, but they could not purchase a Bible or a Prayer-book. They might purchase a stamped newspaper or other publication, but they could not purchase the same publication not stamped. A general investigation ought to precede any measure for endeavouring to secure to all persons their day of rest. Without such an investigation those partial measures ought not to be entertained. This Bill prevented Jews from trading on the Sunday They observed their own Sabbath, and were compelled to observe ours also. He thought that the Christian shopkeeper might setoff his closing of his shop on the Sunday, to the Jew's closing his on the Saturday. This doctrine of close Sabbatarian observance was not the doctrine of Luther and Calvin and the early reformers, nor until lately was it the doctrine of the Church of England. He thought that those who held extreme opinions on the subject were entitled to have every privilege that conscience could fairly claim. He had very little respect indeed for that tenderness of conscience which chiefly showed itself in endeavouring to impose our own principles and practices on our neighbours, making them the test of religion, and invoking tin; aid of legislation for their enforcement. He could not support any measure of this kind unless it was impartial. The very spirit of the Jewish command was, "Thou shalt do no work;" and domestic service especially was the object of that peremptory prohibition—a prohibition extending to cattle as well as to human servants. And when he saw Sabbatarians coming forward and complying with these requirements strictly, he should feel some respect for their efforts as honourable and conscientious, if they never employed their own groom, coachman, or horses, or even their cooks and household servants, upon the day the observance of which they were anxious to enforce. Nor should he be disposed to look favourably on a measure of this sort, till he saw the day of rest treated in a more liberal spirit with regard to the great multitude of the toiling classes. They wished to make it a day of rest. Rest was not the mere, unintelligent cessation from trade or labour; nor could it he satisfied in all by their attendance at church or chapel, whether they were to remain awake or to sleep when there. Best, to make it deserve the name to intelligent beings, should have in it somewhat of activity, and, combined with restrictive enactments, there should always he facilities for allowing the multitude the means of recruiting their exhausted frames and minds. If they wished to take better fare on that day, the parish baker was the poor man's cook; and let the one work for the many, as in the rich man's house the many worked for the one or the few. The omnibus, the steam-carriage—these were the poor man's coach; let him have as free use of these conveniences as his betters had of the carriages they kept for their own purposes. Whoever would think of debarring a man of station from going into his own library on a Sunday? Who would ever dream of such an interposition? The cheap reading-room was the poor man's library. Let him have as free access to it as the other had to his own study. The rich man looked at his paintings and statues. Let the poor man enjoy a similar privilege with regard to the works of art, and let him have a kind of resting-place between the high spiritualism of devotion, and the low animalism of dissipation. If restrictive measures were passed, something of this kind should he done, otherwise the people would be rendered cither drones and hypocrites, or be buried in dissipation. For these reasons he should oppose the second reading of the Bill, hoping to see legislation based on a wider and a better principle.


could not think that the decent observance of the Christian Sabbath in this metropolis was a petty or unworthy object. Though there were several of the statements of the hon. Member for Oldham with which he was not prepared to quarrel, he had come to an exactly opposite conclusion from that hon. Member, and he should go into Committee, not for the purpose of damaging the Bill, but, if possible, improving it, amending its faults, and supplying its deficiencies. The hon. Member had stated the great principle sought to be established, and had pointed out the difficulties of legislation upon the subject. He (Sir J. Graham) agreed that it was not desirable to enforce a gloomy, ascetic observance of the Christian Sabbath; he thought all rational amusements ought to be tolerated on that day. The difficulty of the subject was very great. It was brought much under his consideration when he was Secretary of State, and he had the honour of receiving at the Home Office a very arge body of the tradesmen of the metropolis, accompanied by several of the metropolitan representatives. Of course, his own feelings would lead him to regard the subject not altogether apart from religious considerations; but as a legislator he was disposed to look at it more as a social question. Many of the tradesmen felt that they Were placed in an unjust competition with those who did not cease from business on a Sunday. The hon. Member had described this as an attack upon orange women and apple stalls: was that a fair representation, considering-such a case as had been mentioned, where a person who dealt in clothing—not apples or oranges—Sold to the amount of about 400L on a Sunday? This was a person who had no scruples in reference to the observance of Sunday; but he came in most unfair competition with other clothes dealers, who were placed in this disadvantageous position, that either they must keep their shops open, and not have the day of rest, or sustain a damage which the profits of trade would not bear. He looked at legislation of this description very jealously; he found it so difficult that he declined on his official responsibility to introduce such a measure. The question was, whether he should reject this Bill, which had come down from the House of Lords? and, upon the whole, he agreed with the hon. and gallant Member for Bradford, that it was the nearest approximation to a reasonable measure of legislation upon the subject which he had seen, and he could not make up his mind to vote against the second reading.


said, he should oppose the Bill, though agreeing in most of the remarks of the right hon. Baronet who had just resumed his seat. He had hoped that this discussion would have steered dear of any allusion to Sabbatarian principles or parties. He was disposed to support any measure which would prevent unnecessary trading on the Sunday; but this was a partial and limited measure, referring only to the metropolitan district. It ought to be a general measure, emanating from the Home Office. This was the crude Bill of an independent Member; he never met with one more inconsistent in its details; for instance, fish could only be bought at certain hours, but tobacco might be purchased all day. He trusted the matter would have the attention of the Government, for no doubt an amount of trading was carried on on the Sunday which it was quite shocking to contemplate.


stated that he should reserve any remarks he had to make in reply till the Bill went into Committee.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 101; Noes 22: Majority 79.

List of the AYES.
Adair, R. A. S. Hervey, Lord A.
Arkwright, G. Jermyh, Earl
Benbow, J. Jocelyn, Visct.
Blair, S. Jolliffe, Sir W. G. H.
Booth, Sir R. G. Kershaw, J.
Bouvorie, hon. E. P. Lacy, H. C.
Bowles, Adm. Lewis, G. C.
Bramston, T. W. Lewisham, Visct.
Brisco, M. Lindsay, hon. Col.
Brockman, E. D. Mandeville Visct.
Brotherton, J. Manners, Lord C. S.
Brown, W. Matheson, Col.
Buxton, Sir E. N. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Cardwell, E. Milner, W. M. E.
Childers, J. W. Morris, D.
Clive, hon. R. H. Mundy, W.
Cobbold, J. C. Naas, Lord
Codrington, Sir W. Nicholl, rt. hon. J.
Cole, hon. H. A. O'Brien, Sir L.
Cowpor, hon. W. F. O'Connor, F.
Denison, E. Patten, J. W.
Dickson, S. Perfect, R.
Dodd, G. Plowden, W. H. C.
Duncan, G. Portal, M.
Duncuft, J. Prime, R.
East, Sir J. B. Ricardo, O.
Edwards, H. Robartes, T. J. A.
Ellis, J. Simeon, J.
Ferguson, Sir R. A. Smith, J. A.
Forester, hon. G. C. W. Smyth, J. G.
Fox, S. W. L. Spooner, R.
Freestun, Col. Stafford, A.
Frewen, C. H. Stanford, J. F.
Fuller, A. E. Stuart, Lord D.
Gaskell, J. M. Stuart, H.
Goddard, A. L. Thompson, Col.
Gore, W. R. O. Thompson, G
Grace, O. D. J. Thornhill, G.
Graham, rt. hon. Sir J. Townley, R. G.
Grenfell, C. W. Trevor, hon. G. R.
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Trollope, Sir J.
Grosvenor, Lord R. Vane, Lord H.
Gwyn, H. Verney, Sir H.
Hall, Sir B. Vesey, hon. T.
Halsey, T. P. Walmsley, Sir J.
Hamilton, G. A. Watkins, Col. L.
Harris, R. Willoughby, Sir H.
Hastie, A. Wodehouse, E.
Hawes, B. Wyvill, M.
Henley, J. W. TELLERS.
Herbert, H. A. Pearson, C.
Herbert, rt. hon. S. Alcock, T.
List of the NOES.
Aglionby, H. A. Pilkington, J.
Armstrong, Sir A. Romilly, Col.
Bass, M. T. Scholefleld, W.
Berkeley, hon. H. F. Spearman, H. J.
Crawford, W. S. Tenison, E. K.
Fox, W. J. Thornely, T.
Heywood, J. Wakley, T.
Hey worth, L. Wawn, J. T.
Lennard, T. B. Willcox, B. M.
Locke, J. TELLERS.
Mackinnon, W. A. Wall, C. B.
Ogle, S. C. H. Anstey, T. C.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday next.