HC Deb 30 April 1851 vol 116 cc361-7

Order for Committee read.


having presented petitions in favour of the measure, moved that the House should go into Committee on the Bill.

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


presented a petition from hairdressers of the metropolis, complaining that a clause formerly contained in the Bill, which gave them the same protection as other traders, had been struck out, and praying that, as they were as much entitled to protection as any other parties, the clause might be restored.


opposed the Motion for going into Committee. He and some other hon. Members, who were opposed to the Bill, had assented to the second reading on the understanding, not only that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, but that the Committee should have power to send for persons, papers, and records. The Bill went before the Select Committee, and on the very first day the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Baring Wall) proposed to send for witnesses. He read for the Committee a list of the trades, and persons representing trades, whom it was desirable to examine, with a view to elicit, by their testimony, such facts as would enable them to judge of the operations of the Bill. But the preamble having been postponed, a formal objection was raised from the Chair that it was not proper at that stage to send for witnesses. Under those circumstances, the Committee proceeded with the consideration of the Bill, which was opposed by, among others, the members of the hair-dressing profession. There was not an absolute majority in the Committee in favour of all the clauses. Those who were in favour of one clause, were opposed to others; and certain Amendments were proposed, some by the promoters of the Bill, and some by its opponents. He believed the Bill came out of the Select Committee much more absurd in character than when it went before that body. The Committee appeared to think that the more inconsistent the Bill was made with itself, and with its avowed purpose, the better, for in that case it was the more likely to obtain acceptance in that House and some other places. It was well known to those who were familiar with the secret history of this absurd and hypocritical legislation, that the clause of "exceptions" was what might be styled the consideration clause of the old Bill. There was a rabid cry out of doors in favour of more Sabbatical legislation. There were also those who, without sharing in that mania, and having a keen eye to their own interests, were anxious to extinguish the troublesome competition of the poor artisan or tradesman in their own crafts. Both those classes, however, united in the attempt to promote this Bill, and the Bills which were its predecessors, and both those classes happened to comprehend the whole of the middle classes having votes. The classes against whom this legislation was directed were not so largely endowed with the electoral franchise, and therefore did not participate quite so much in the sympathy of the promoters of this Bill in that and the other House of Parliament. The main object of the Bill was to gratify those persons as much as possible by extinguishing the trading of the poor, and at the same time to ensure the success of the measure, by taking care to accompany it with such limitations and exceptions as should make it as little troublesome as possible to those who legislated and to those whose interests the legislation was intended to promote. Thus the people who lived from hand to mouth were to be put down, but a line was to be drawn which should separate the small mechanics or tradesmen from those a little above them, who might find it a little inconvenient to be curtailed of their own amusements, or, what was more to the purpose, of their right to compel the unwilling labour of those whom they employed. That was the problem which the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. William Williams) had to solve. If the Bill was intelligible, this was the effect of it; the small tradesmen, whose competition it was desirable to extinguish, would be placed absolutely at the mercy of policemen acting under parochial orders, and engaged in the attempt to carry out what was supposed to be the prohibitory part of the Bill, whilst the wealthier tradesman, the man who could afford to employ others, was not touched at all. At present this Bill was confined to the prohibition of the sale or delivery of certain things on the Sunday, with the exception of certain commodities belonging to those classes whom, for reasons not apparent on the face of the Bill, it had been deemed proper to exempt from its operation. By the first clause it was made unlawful during the whole Sunday to sell, vend, or cry, or expose for sale, anything whatsoever; and it was further enacted that no dealer of certain descriptions of food should, after nine in the morning, deliver any of his commodities at the residence of any persons who had purchased the same, under a penalty of 20s. Now, the prohibition as to selling was absolute, and extended over the whole of London, and the prohibition as to delivering was limited by the words "after nine o'clock in the morning." The House would see that distinction was taken for the benefit of the richer, or rather of the easier classes. The general prohibition to sell was limited by the second clause. First of all, no medicine, drug, or article for medicinal purposes, if sold by a medical man or a chemist, was to be understood as within the general prohibition. So necessity, charity, sickness, and sudden emergencies were to constitute exceptions; so milk and cream, if sold before ten and after one, were not prohibited, but fish was. Now he (Mr. Anstey) should like to know why the soul of a milkman or a milkmaid was not of as much account in the eyes of the hon. Member for Lambeth as that of a fishmonger? He wanted to know, in other words, why that exception was made in favour of milk and cream, and why those articles were not put on the same level as other articles of food more likely to be in request among the lower classes? The provisions of the Act did not apply to the sale of fruit, pastry, cooked or prepared victuals, or any beverage, not being wine, spirits, beer, or other fermented or distilled liquors, or any newspaper or other periodical papers stamped with the proper newspaper stamp, before the hour of ten in the morning, and after one in the afternoon. Tobacco might also be sold after one in the afternoon. Then clubhouses would be excepted under the clause which exempted from the provisions of the Bill any person selling or vending in his dwelling house, to any lodger, any ready-dressed provisions, liquors, or refreshments. Again, publicans were excepted by the third clause—why, he did not know. That was one of the inconsistencies which the hon. Member for Lambeth would have to unravel. Then servants who claimed to be employed by others were not to be touched by any clause of the Act. The object in all that was to discriminate between the poorer and the wealthier classes, in favour of the latter. He now came to the most tyrannical, and therefore the most objectionable, clause in the whole Bill, he meant the seventh, by which judicial power was given to policemen to decide, on their own discretion, that there had been an offence against the provisions of this Bill, and to seize the entire property, the whole capital (for it amounted to that) of the miserable vendor of the most perishable materials, who happened to be found in the highways or elsewhere, it mattered not, within the city of London or its liberties, engaged in his or her calling; and then, by way of adding insult to injury, a promise was given to the wretched individual that his goods would be restored to him on application to a justice of the peace, on such terms as to such justice should seem meet; thus making such individual a possible, but under the circumstances a most improbable, litigant. It was not intended that the magistrates should sit on Sundays to adjudicate on such cases; and the property so taken and detained might be of such a nature as to perish in the interval, before application was made for its restoration. That clause, notwithstanding its character, although it was the most severe, odious, and oppressive, appeared to have received more support in the Committee than any other, for it was passed without a division. The evidence of Mr. Commissioner Mayne on the subject of that clause was most important. A similar provision was contained in some local Acts in force within the metropolis; but Mr. Commissioner Mayne, acting on a discretion which he supposed resided with him, refused to allow the policemen under his orders to act under such a clause, he being convinced that if policemen were allowed to seize goods or chattels exposed for sale, whether on Sunday or any other day of the week, the bystanders would interfere, and a riot would ensue. Mr. Commissioner Mayne also gave it as his conviction, that if an attempt was made, by compulsion especially, to secure the observance of Sunday, the evil of Sunday trading was likely to be much aggravated. He (Mr. Anstey) considered that by the testimony of Mr. Commissioner Mayne, given before the Lords' Committee, an unanswerable case was made out against the present Bill. But it did not rest there; for the returns laid before the Select Committee from the various metropolitan police divisions, showed in most of those divisions a very considerable decrease of Sunday trading of late years. In some of those divisions there was a considerable amount of trading on Sundays among the Jews, who had a sabbath and holidays of their own to observe, and who had petitioned that House against the present Bill. The Jews already had sixty-six days in the year in which they carried on no trading, and that without any Act of Parliament to stimulate their devotions; but, notwithstanding that, it was proposed by the present Bill to prohibit them from trading on fifty-two other days in the year. There was also a class of Protestant Dissenters called Sabbatarians, who held the doctrines and observed the discipline of the Church of England in all respects except the day which they kept as their Sabbath. On that class also the Bill would impose fifty-two days' abstinence from labour and trade over and above the abstinence which they imposed on themselves on their own Sabbaths. Had the hon. and learned Master of the Rolls been in his place, he might have been able to throw some light upon that point, for one of the most valuable officers in the Rolls house was of that persuasion. Mr. Commissioner Mayne attributed much of the decrease in Sunday trading in the metropolis to an improvement in the views and feelings of the lower classes, and that gentleman was of opinion that the existing law for preventing trading on Sundays should be repealed or not enforced. Under all those circumstances, he (Mr. Anstey) should like to know on what grounds the hon. Member for Lambeth rested his case. For himself, he (Mr. Anstey) should oppose this Bill in all its stages. He should feel it his duty to persevere, whilst the Bill was in Committee, in endeavouring to introduce amendments, either disclosing and unmasking its real character, or else amendments which would have the effect of making the Bill consistent with itself, by rendering it thoroughly, truly, and honestly Levitical. He should conclude by moving, that the House go into Committee on the Bill that day six months.

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 six months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.

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


, in seconding the Amendment, did not desire to protract the debate, if it were not intended to go into Committee that evening. He wished only to state what had occurred in the Select Committee on the Bill. He had wished that evidence should be adduced; but the hon. Member who had charge of the Bill had rested his case on the evidence before the Lords' Committee, and he (Mr. Baring Wall) had not been allowed an opportunity of bringing forward evidence. Otherwise he should have brought some medical witnesses, and he would have asked them whether they would assume the responsibility of recommending such a measure during the cholera visitation. He knew that the chemists' shops were allowed to be open, but the best remedies for the poor were, after all, to be found in the butchers' and bakers' shops; and he knew that small butchers, &c, often, during the hours of divine service, had persons sending for small quantities of meat, and other articles of diet, which often prevented the sick from sinking in exhaustion. He considered this was a bastard Bill, and that if its principle were good, it should be applied not only to the metropolis but to the whole country. If the Bill were passed, it could not be enforced. There was honour and truth among the lower orders—the purchaser would not pay for the articles on the Sunday, but return on the Monday for the purpose, and so the Act would easily be evaded. He should propose that confectioners and pastrycooks be excepted from the Bill (as well as apothecaries), along with tea-dealers and tobacconists. The fifth clause, which involved the principle of cumulative penalties, he deemed the most mischievous in the Bill. There were other respects in which he intended to propose amendments of the Bill. He hoped that, as the Bill could not go into Committee that evening (it was then about half-past five), another day would be fixed for its due consideration. The subject was one of great difficulty, and could only be dealt with by repealing the old Act of Charles II., and then perhaps a Bill in the nature of compromise could be agreed to. The question involved, however, both religious and social elements, and he doubted if it ever could be adjusted.


said, that at that hour—seeing that no reasons had yet been adduced in favour of the Bill—and thinking it necessary to have some explanation of the extraordinary course taken by the Select Committee in declining to adduce evidence in support of the Bill—a Bill which was characterised by so unkind and unchristian a spirit towards the working classes—thinking it better, for these reasons, that a better opportunity should be given for discussing the subject, he should move that the debate be adjourned.

Debate adjourned till Wednesday, 14th May.

The House adjourned at half after Five o'clock.