HC Deb 31 July 1850 vol 113 cc585-95

Order for Committee read.

MR. ALCOCK moved, that the House go into Committee on this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


should move as an Amendment, that the House go into Committee upon that day three months. He denied that the Bill would effect its object, even in the metropolis; and he strongly objected to confining its provisions, supposing it to be an effective Bill, to the metropolis—drawing a line, in fact, round London, and saying, "Here, up to this point, you must observe the Sabbath, but beyond that point you are at liberty to break it." The Bill was neither more nor less than a piece of undigested nonsense. It was all very well to say that the small tradesmen desired the Bill; but the fact was that they were the worst enemies of the poor, for it would always be found that when a battle of classes commenced, it was the class immediately above the lower which tyrannised most. He objected to the Bill also as an oppression of the Jew by the Christian. He believed that much of the favour with which the Bill was viewed by certain tradesmen, was owing to a jealousy of the Jews who were in the same line of business as themselves, and who, having kept their own Sabbath, did not of course feel it necessary to keep the Sunday also. But he objected to the Bill most of all because it was a war of the rich against the pleasures, enjoyments, and conveniences of the poor. The tendency of the measure was to oppress the poor, and to let the rich escape untouched. If the Bill should get through Committee, he gave the House fair warning that on the bringing up of the report he would move a series of Amendments, conceived in an opposite spirit, and directed against the running of private carriages, and the employment of domestic servants on the Sunday. He did not intend to do this for the sake of obstruction, but for the purpose of producing a reaction. He might be deemed tedious in his arguments, but for that he did not care; for if by his tediousness he defeated the measure, he cared not by what term it was designated. He warned the House that if they passed this unjust, wicked, absurd, and disgusting Bill, they would stink in the nostrils of the public; and that when the franchise was extended, as he hoped it would be next year, the people would execute summary vengeance against those who had been the means of oppressing them. He trusted that the House would not sanction a measure which might accord with the convictions of a few sincere zealots, but which would tend chiefly to the gratification of a vast body of hypocrites.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


seconded the Motion.


said, that the preliminary question as to the principle of this Bill was practically decided last Wednesday, when it was read a second time by a majority of 101 to 22. He did not see the propriety of the hon. and learned Member for Youghal detaining them at such length at this stage with a discussion of the details of the Bill, because it was clear that by pursuing that course they could make no progress with the Bill. If the hon. and learned Gentleman insisted upon taking the sense of the House again upon the subject, he had better divide the House at once. With respect to the Bill, he begged to say that he had been waited upon by several deputations of tradesmen, earnestly pressing upon him the importance of the measure, lie certainly was not disposed to take the Bill into his own hands, being well aware by past experience of the facilities which existed for obstructing a measure of this kind on the part of Members opposed to it. It was true that the Bill, considered with regard to its details, did not rest upon any clearly defined principle; but, at the same time, he believed that, if passed, it would accomplish great practical good, and go far to remedy a great and crying evil. He had already given his opinion in favour of the Bill by voting for the second reading, and he was willing to give a fair considertion to every bonâ fide Amendment that might be made in Committee.


wished to correct an idea which had forth among some of his friends, that he supported this mea sure with a view to a reaction. Now, lie had expressed no such opinion. On the contrary, he approved of it, as being in its nature a permissive Bill, and not a prohibitory; and be did not believe it would lead to a reaction. So far from that, be thought, if properly conducted, it would be a peace-offering. There were two strong parties in the country, each strongly addicted to its own opinion; and it was the duty of a prudent man to endeavour to make some composition between them. Nobody would suspect him of the Sabbatarian heresy. He did not doubt but that the cloven foot of that heresy might be traced among the supporters of the Bill; and it was because he was aware of this, that he was anxious to secure the introduction of such provisions as would insure the just liberties of the public. He thought this could be done most effectually by the friends of religious liberty joining in the endeavour to extend the exemptions in the Bill, rather than going to the bottom in a barren minority.


supported the Amendment. The people were not to be made religious by Act of Parliament; and the only effect of this measure, if it was passed, would be to operate as oppressive and coercive upon the poorer classes of the community, without making one single person more go to church. The days of penalty for opinion were gone, and, if this Bill injured the interests of but one man in a hundred, it ought to be rejected. If the Government thought such a measure expedient, the Government ought to have brought one forward, whereas here, upon a question closely affecting that religious liberty of the subject, as advocates of which the Whig Ministry had risen to power, there was only one Member of the Government present.


opposed the Bill. He entertained many objections to it; looking at it as being the offspring of shortsighted religious bigotry, and thinking that it was opposed to the general course of popular progress. He objected to a sour and sectarian observance of the Sunday, and would have no objection to see museums and similar places of recreation open to the people upon that day.


said, the object of the Bill was to relieve thousands of persons in the humbler ranks from the severe competition to which they were now exposed on the Sahbath, and to enable them to avail themselevs of the high privilege of enjoy- ing that day in the manner dictated by their religious feelings.


wished to know who was responsible for this Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Homo Department had repudiated: who was the father of the Bill, who was the godfather of the Bill? Where was the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne? It was said he was in Jerusalem. The hon. Gentleman the Member for East Surrey, who had moved that the House go into Committee on the Bill, had not said a word as to the position in which he stood with regard to the measure; and the hon. Gentleman who had moved the second reading of the Bill was not now a Member of the House. It was said that the working classes demanded this Bill; why, the working classes knew nothing about it, and would know nothing about it, until, if it passed, they found the shops closed at which, heretofore, on Sunday mornings, they had made the purchases they had no other time for making. As to the petition said to have emanated from the operative classes in support of the Bill, they had been worked up, under false pretences, by the canting hypocrites of Exetcr-hall—gentlemen who set up to be by no means as other men, but who were, at the very utmost, no honester, or better, or straightforward than other men; with no fewer carnal infirmities, not a bit more moral in any way; who lifted up their eyes and invoked the blessing of God on their operations one day, and the next, if it so suited them, betrayed the cause on which they had invoked that blessing without the smallest ceremony. The public had already had more than enough of Exeter-hall in their cant on the Post Office Sunday arrangements; and this Bill was eminently calculated to aggravate the public disgust. It was to be admitted that the measure was not so flagrantly bad, so malignant, as previous measures on the subject; but he knew the sort of men by whom it was brought forward. Once let them get the bigotry-wedge in, and be sure they'd lose no more time than they could help in driving it home. The best security for the proper observance of the Sabbath by the humbler classes, was the kindly development of their own good feelings, and the example to good of those above them in life.


said, that this Bill affected the interests of many thousands, and indeed millions, of the people, and some 12,000 or 13,000 inhabitants of the metropolis had petitioned against it, and yet the House had been told that, because they were within ten days of the prorogation of Parliament, they ought to assent to it; and that, because its principle had been discussed on the second reading, independent Members were not now to debate that principle. That was a dictum to which he cortainly would not succumb. He considered that this was not a practical measure. Mr. Elliott, the police magistrate, bad stated in his evidence before the Committee, that, speaking as a lawyer, he thought the Bill was not technically drawn, and that he did not think it would work in its present form. There was a clause in the Bill relating to the sale of beer, and he (Mr. Wall) wished to put a question to the hon. and learned Attorney General on that subject. He believed that all beer sold without a, licence was illegally sold; but there were many small shops in the metropolis where table beer was sold at 1½d. a quart without any licence; and that beer, he understood, was very extensively consumed by the working classes. But the clause to which he referred, would, he believed, prevent those classes from obtaining this less intoxicating liquor than was sold at public-houses, by preventing the tradesmen's shops from being open on Sunday at the time public-houses and beershops were open. There were, however, conflicting opinions on the point, and he hoped the hon. and learned Attorney General would state whether table beer could be sold without a licence, and, if so, whether that liquor should not be exempted from the operation of the Bill, as ginger beer and other refreshing beverages would be. He thought the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary, or (he law officers of the Crown, would do well to apply themselves to the preparation of a measure repealing the obsolete laws relating to Sunday trading, and so placing the law on this subject upon a footing more satisfactory to the public than it now was. There were undoubtedly very great difficulties in carrying out the Act of Charles II.; but it must not be supposed that that Act was entirely a dead letter, for it was stated that in the course of eighteen months nearly 150 convictions had taken place under that statute in different parts of the country. The state of the law on this subject was at present unsatisfactory, and would be rendered still more so if this Bill received the assent of the Le- gislature. The poor man was now liable to be "pulled up" for the non-observance of the Sunday under any one of three Acts, namely, the Act of Charles II., the Police Act, and the statute known as Michael Angelo Taylor's Act. He objected to this Bill, because it would impose-cumulative penalties, extending to a sum of considerable amount, which the poor man would not be able to pay. He was himself most anxious for the decent, proper, and spiritual observance of the Sunday; but he thought when the Government endeavoured to promote a rigid observance of that day, they ought to act with consistency. Now, on the Sunday, all the boats on the Serpentine were locked up by the directions of the Chief Commissioner of Woods and Forests; hut any one who visited the park on that day might purchase nuts, oranges, ginger beer, or lollypops, at a stall which was open under the authority of the noble Lord. If the supporters of this Bill wore consistent Sabbatarians, how, he would ask, could they read the Monday's newspaper, which had been in a great measure prepared and printed on the Sunday? And how, too, could a consistent Sabbatarian accept an invitation to dinner for a Monday, seeing that many of the entrées must have been prepared on Sunday? When this Bill was last under discussion, the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon had expressed himself in favour of the second reading of it, and had said that a Mr. Hayman, who had been examined before the Lords' Committee, stated that be could bring forward a witness who had taken between 300l and 400l. on the Sunday for the sale of clothes. Now, Mr. Hayman said, in his evidence before a Committee of the House if Commons, that the person to whom he alluded had one Whit-Sunday taken as much as 120l.; and before the Committee of the House of Lords, he stated that the same person bad on another Whit-Sunday taken from 300l, to 400l. But he submitted that that was a very loose mode of taking evidence, and it was well known that such testimony would not be received in any court of law. He relied upon the evidence given before the Committee by Mr. Mayne, the commissioner of police, and by Mr. Elliott, the magistrate, both of whom expressed opinions opposed to this measure, and concurred in stating that the evils complained of were local and not general evils, and that the existing law was sufficient to put them down. He called upon the House, then, at least to postpone the consideration of this Bill.


regretted that the hon. Gentleman who had taken charge of the Bill in that House had resigned his seat, and was consequently unable to defend its provisions. The supporters of the Bill had been denounced as actuated by a Sabbatarian, a puritanical, and a hypocritical spirit, and on that subject somewhat hard words had been used. He could only say, for himself, that he was actuated by no such feelings. He supported the Bill, because he thought it necessary that some means should be taken to protect the respectable tradesmen in different parts of the metropolis, who suffered from the present system of Sunday trading. So far from the Bill being of a stringent character, the provisions proposed were of the most mild and moderate character.


said, that his views respecting the observance of the Sunday differed very materially from those entertained by a great majority of Members of that House, and also by the great majority of those for whom Parliament legislated. He did not regard the observance of the Sunday as commanded by Divine authority. He regarded the observance of Sunday, and of other holydays, as a precept of the Church. He regarded those holydays, as set aside by the precept of the Church, to be as strictly observed as the Sunday; and he considered that the Church had the power, if it thought fit so to do, to alter the observance of the Sunday to Tuesday, Wednesday, or any other day of the week. If the observance of the Sunday were established by Divino authority, the Church would have no power to make such an alteration. In Rome, in Sardinia, and in many of the German Catholic States, the shops were as generally closed on the Sunday as they were in any part of London; while in some of the German Protestant States, the shops were as generally open on that day as they were in Paris. He could not sympathise, on the one hand, with those who wished to have the Sunday desecrated, as he considered; or, on the other hand, with those who desired to have it observed with a rigidness he thought unnecessary, and therefore he would not vote upon the principle of this measure.


said, as it was impossible the Bill could be passed this Session, he thought they were wasting time in discussing it, and moved that the debate be adjourned.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the debate be now adjourned."


wished to say, that he had received communications from the proprietors of several first-rate weekly newspapers, stating that the Bill would have a most injurious effect upon their interests.


thought it would be singularly inexpedient, while these parties were suffering severely by the new postal regulation, to follow that up by another measure injuriously affecting their interests. They were useful to the public in communicating early information.


believed that the present measure might be made one of a very useful character, and knew that some such measure was wished for by a large portion of the inhabitants of this metropolis. Not only tradesmen, but a great many journeymen and working men, had petitioned for it. But he must say, it ought to be taken up by the Government, and not left to a private Member. He regretted the opposition which had been offered to the Bill by his hon. and tedious Friend opposite. ["Oh!"] He had a right to call his hon. and learned Friend tedious, and that without meaning any discourtesy, because his hon. and learned Friend was tedious, and said he was tedious, and that he had endeavoured to be tedious. Having said so much, he (Lord D. Stuart) was bound in justice to add, that his hon. and learned Friend had perfectly succeeded in his attempt, and he might be congratulated upon his success. If hon. Gentlemen were determined, at this period of the Session, to obstruct the measure, it was to be feared it would be of no use to press it; but if they would meet the supporters of the Bill in a candid spirit, and go into Committee, there was ample time to deal with it, after the great consideration the subject had received.

The House divided:—Ayes 36; Noes 71: Majority 35.

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


then intimated that he would not press the Bill further this Session.


believed that, if the practice of paying wages on a Friday were to be adopted, so as to give the Saturday for marketing, the necessity for any legislation upon the subject would be avoided.


protested against the spirit in which the opposition to the Bill was conducted, and the wanton attack upon the feelings of a very large portion of the community. He must deny that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (the Member for Youghal) had the slightest pretension to claim to be the mouthpiece of the working classes, lie must deny also that any among them, save the dissolute and irreligious, were against the Bill; indeed, he had never come in contact with a decent working man who had communicated to him any solid objection to it. It was not, in that House, placed upon religious grounds, but was brought forward as a Bill for diminishing unnecessary trading on Sunday, and putting an end to abuses which brought discomfort and irregularity into many families. He knew that persons who had a reverential regard for the Sabbath had made considerable sacrifices of their feelings in putting forward a measure solely for the decent regulation of trading on Sunday; and he thought the Bill was entitled to respectful treatment. He was sorry to find that the Bill was to he withdrawn; he should, have preferred seeing the whole responsibility of its not being passed thrown upon those who had set themselves up as its opponents.


begged to join in the protest against the hon. Members for Salisbury and Youghal having any claim to be considered as the exponents of the views of the working classes, lie (Lord 11. Grosvenor) had attended a meeting of the working classes, where, after speeches on both sides, there was a division, and it was five to one in favour of the Bill.


would ask why, if the working classes were so much in favour of the Bill, they had given so much occasion for its introduction? As for those persons who pleaded conscience, why did they not observe the day? Surely the salvation of their souls was worth the sacrifice of the day's profit. Did men want to "serve God and mammon?" But, as in the instance of the Post Office, the convenience of the many was to give way to a plea for the few. Generally speaking, there was in this metropolis a very becoming observance of the Sabbath; and, if there were two or three districts in which it was otherwise, such outlets might he necessary in the condition of society; and at any rate calm inquiry into the causes should precede this rough attempt to put down the scenes occurring there. The law was very stringent already. At a police court, a short time since, a man was fined 40s. and costs for serving on Sunday, he having supplied a bottle of beer to a woman, who took it home quietly to her family; while at the same court, on the same morning, another, who was convinced of using false weights, by which he had cheated his poor customers of several ounces in the pound, was fined hut half the amount—20s. and costs.


expressed his belief, that it was impossible to make a people religious by means of legislation, but that public feeling was strongly against Sunday trading.


vindicated himself from the imputation that he ever said the subject was one for legislation, or ought to be taken up by the Government, He was opposed to any legislation at all in the matter; but he had said that if there was anything good in the present Bill, Government ought to take it up. He believed they must leave the question of Sunday trading to be dealt with by public opinion and the religious feeling of the country.


thought the hon. Member for East Surrey had exercised a wise discretion in consenting to withdraw the Bill. He was by no means sorry it had been introduced, as the discussion which had taken place could not fail to be of benefit; and if the suggestion of the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, that the men should he paid their wages on Friday instead of on Saturday night, was carried into effect, it would greatly conduce not only to the observance of the Sunday, but to the comfort, welfare, and happiness, of the working classes. [The right hon. Baronet then read a letter from a gentleman employing a large number of workpeople in the metropolis, in which he described the advantages of paying his men their wages on Friday night, and the evils of the present system. The working man rarely received his wages till after six o'clock on Saturday; he knew he would not have to rise at five o'clock, next morning, and went off to an alehouse, where he left 2s. or 3s. of his wages. On his return at ten or eleven o'clock at night, it was too late to get those things which his family required, and hence arose the whole system of Sunday trading. The payment of wages on Friday prevented these evils. The work- man had to go homo in order to rise in time, and the instances were rare in which he neglected to make his appearance at the usual hour on Saturday morning, particularly if there was a penalty of dismissal. He hoped this suggestion would not be thrown away.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Committee put off for three months.