HC Deb 19 March 1851 vol 115 cc197-205

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that he had undertaken the charge of the Bill at the request of a large number of his constituents, who were Sunday traders, and who regarded Sunday trading as an evil of the greatest magnitude. It would be in the recollection of the House that last Session the House of Lords referred the subject to a Select Committee, before whom evidence was taken for and against any measure of interference with the practice; and in accordance, with the preponderating weight of evidence, their Lordships passed a Bill, which was sent down to this House so late in the Session that it was found inexpedient to go on with it. The present Bill did not introduce any new principle of legislation; for an Act was passed in the reign of Charles the Second containing far more stringent clauses than any in this Bill. The principle, however, was identical—the Act of Charles the Second declaring— That no tradesman, artificer, workman, labourer, or any other person whatever, shall exercise any worldly labour, business, or work of ordinary calling on the Lord's day, works of necessity and charity excepted. The provisions of the present measure were not so stringent, but they were intended to remedy defects in the provisions of the Act of Charles, the working of which had been entirely inoperative. The House would also recollect that a Committee of this House sat upon this subject in 1847, before whom voluminous evidence was given, and it was proved by a vast majority of witnesses that some legislative provision was desirable. In that feeling the tradesmen of every portion of the metropolis agreed, and he was not aware that it was much stronger in Lambeth than in the Tower Hamlets, and other parts of the metropolis. He knew it would be urged, in opposition to the Bill, that frequent instances occurred that wages were not paid until late on Saturday night, and on that account facilities must be afforded to buy necessaries on Sunday morning. Now the greatly preponderating weight of evidence established the fact, that in almost all cases wages were paid sufficiently early to enable the labouring population to go to market on Saturday night. In the evi- dence before the two Committees to which he had referred, it appeared that a large number of witnesses declared that higher prices were paid for necessaries on Sunday morning, than they could purchase them for on Saturday night. The proof of that fact was quite overwhelming, and it was further stated by one respectable tradesman, that he abstained from opening his shop on Sundays during the first eleven years he was in business; that owing to his neighbours, who did open on Sundays, taking away so large a portion of his trade, he was forced also to open on Sundays in self-defence; that the sales of provisions were at a higher price than he obtained on week days, and that higher price enabled him to undersell his neighbours, who did not open on Sundays, during the rest of the week. The general evidence went to the fact that it was of no benefit to the industrious classes to be able to make their purchases on Sunday mornings. Hon. Members perhaps would be surprised to hear that within a few hundred yards of that House 700 shops were open on Sunday morning, and that a large number were shops, not selling provisions and necessaries, but articles of every description. He thought it would he conceded that man was incapable physically, mentally, morally, and socially, of continual labour; and hon. Members must consider that men compelled to open their shops on Sundays were forced to the almost incessant labour of 365 days in the year. It bad, in fact, been admitted by all civilised nations, from the earliest period, that suspension of labour was necessary for the well-being of man. In support of it he might quote the fact, that the most eminent commentators on the laws of Greece and Rome stated, that on their festive days labour was suspended, to give rest to the labourers and slaves. During the existence of slavery in our colonies, the slaves, by law, were not permitted to be worked on Sunday, which they enjoyed as a day of rest. In the United States, where slavery exists in its most hideous form, the slaves have Sunday for a day of rest. Since the limitation of time, the work in factories was better done, and as much in quantity, as that performed during the long-hour system. How much worse is the condition of the 15,000 to 20,000 assistants in the Sunday-trading shops. It was not his intention to go into any of the provisions of the measure, because he should be ready, immediately after the second reading, to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, fairly I chosen to consider it. He had taken it up not as a volunteer, and he wished it had been placed in other hands. Amongst the evidence before the Lords' Committee, a journeyman in a large clothing establishment, stated that his employers opened on Sunday morning at seven o'clock with a display of all kinds of articles, and kept open whilst persons were going to church. A journeyman butcher stated that they commenced business at four o'clock on Saturday morning, and kept open until half-past twelve at night, and then again opened at seven o'clock on Sunday morning. A greengrocer stated that he commenced business at four o'clock on Saturday morning, and kept open until half-past twelve at night, and began again at seven on Sunday morning, and that was the general practice in the trade amongst the shops that opened on Sunday. Here were men compelled to work for twenty hours in one day, and he would ask what condition of slavery was more worthy their pity than that of men forced to such incessant toil by the hard necessity of the custom of the trade? However it might be shown that parties might be injured, the House must agree with him that some remedy ought to be applied. It was conceded by almost every one that no benefit was conferred on the general community, by marketing on the Sunday. He did not wish for any legislation to compel persons to go to church, though he should wish them to do so. He did not take this up as a religious question; all he wanted was that there should be a day of rest.

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


should move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. He thought that the hon. Member for Lambeth had avoided entering into any details explanatory of his Bill. After a lapse of 200 years, he thought the House would not be prepared to begin legislation anew against Sunday trading, unless the hon. Member who proposed it was able to bring forward some measure which would stand critical observation, and answer the purpose he had in view. It was an invidious position to object to a measure like the present; but what had fallen from the hon. Member would, if he mistook not, reconcile the country to the opposition to this Bill. The hon. Member said, "Refer this Bill to a Committee upstairs;" but he ought to have told the House what the Bill was before he asked them to agree to the second reading. The other evening the hon. and learned Member for Youghal asked the hon. Member whether the expenses attending upon this Bill were not paid by the vestry of Lambeth out of the parish rates? The hon. Gentleman replied, that he did not know that was the case. However that might be, the hon. Gentleman would find that in 1848 and 1849 a sum was paid for printing, in connexion with this subject, out of the poor-rates of the parish of St. Luke's, 10l. having been paid in one year, and 5l. in the next. This year, too, he was informed a resolution had been passed that a sum of money for this purpose should be paid out of the rates. These things ought to be known by the House, in order that they might understand how petitions in favour of such measures were manufactured, the petitioners being the gentlemen who sat in their arm-chairs, enjoying every luxury, able to shave and wash themselves at home, without being obliged to go to an obscure shop in the New-cut, where they could enjoy one of these operations at the cost of a halfpenny, while the other entailed an expense of 1d. The hon. Member who moved the second reading was so shy of alluding to his Bill, that he compelled him (Mr. B. Wall) to call the attention of the House to its clauses. In the first place, it was to apply only to the metropolis. Now, he said, if we were to have a law on Sunday trading, let it be a law for the whole country, and not for the metropolis alone. If the House should agree to go into Committee on this Bill, he should move in Committee to extend the Bill to the whole of England and Wales. The law of Charles II. was put in force oftener than the hon. Member supposed, for it appeared by a return for which he (Mr. B. Wall) had moved, that 140 or 150 convictions under that Act had taken place during the period of eighteen months over which that return extended. The hon. Member for Lambeth said, that no new principle of legislation was established by this Bill. He denied that, for the Bill contained the principle of cumulative penalties, which was an entirely new principle in Sunday legislation. In the case of barbers, this Bill was exceedingly hard. Under the present law, or rather the Act of Charles II., they could be fined no more than 20s. for a contravention of the Act; but by this Bill they could be fined up to 40l. and for each offence. Then there was a provision with regard to the hawkers and dealers in oranges, and other perishable articles. This enactment would not provide against that evil. The boys and girls engaged in that occupation might, and no doubt would, lay aside their baskets; but they would have large pockets, in which they would keep their oranges; and when the police were out of sight, they would exhibit them in their hands. He begged to suggest to the Secretary of State, that carts employed in the street for the purpose of selling such perishable articles, should be registered in the same manner as coaches, omnibuses, and all public conveyances were. As regarded the religious aspect of the question, any act of the kind contemplated by the Bill would be repugnant to the feelings of the English people. If the Act of Charles II. was insufficient, was also the Police Act, and Michael Angelo Taylor's Act? All shops, of whatever description, should be shut during the hours of divine service on Sunday, in the same way as beerhouses and public-houses were regulated at present. The objectionable feature of the Bill, however, was the principle of cumulative penalties, as he had already stated. This principle of cumulative penalties was introduced into all the modern Bills to put down Sunday trading, and it had been uniformly rejected by the House. The present Bill proposed to except beer and stamped publications from the articles which might be sold on Sundays. By a Who book on the sale of beer, which came from the House of Lords last Session, the law was finally set at rest. It contained a general order, issued by the Excise, in which the officers of Inland Revenue were instructed that no objection would be made to the sale of table beer, retailed by persons who were not licensed victuallers, provided that it were sold at a price not exceeding 1½d. per quart. Now, the present Bill would affect the sale of that liquor on Sundays. The public-houses of the metropolis were allowed to be opened on Sundays after one o'clock, under certain restrictions. By this Bill the commonest beverage of the working classes was taken out of their reach, and the hon. Member sent them, if they had money, to the public-house; and, if they had none, to the pump. There was a penalty for selling this table-beer on Sunday, and the Bill would not allow the poor man, in point of fact, to have any drink. In the list of excepted arti- cles which might be sold on Sundays, he found the words "or periodical papers stamped with the penny stamp." This would exclude all the unstamped publications, which were the chief reading of the mechanics and artisans. There were as many as fifty unstamped periodicals, many of them very respectably conducted. Among them were the Family Herald, Eliza Cook's Journal, the publications of the Messrs. Chambers, the Working Man's Friend, and these would stand the most scrutinising eye. They were, too, able to give information to many Gentlemen within the walls of that House. These publications, as the bill of exceptions stood, could not be purchased by the poor man on Sundays. Was this legislation suited to the year 1851? Was it going forward, or was it not rather retrograding with a vengeance, even back to the time of Charles II.? In conclusion, he begged for a moment to refer to the evidence given before the Lords' Committee last year, upon which the present Bill was founded. Mr. Mayne, the Chief Commissioner of Police, said, that he should look with apprehension at any attempt to enforce by law the provisions of the Bill, on account of the great improvement that had taken place; and, again, that he thought a general Bill would not be an effective one for the purpose. Mr. Elliott, a magistrate of great experience, said, that speaking as a lawyer he thought the Bill very inadequately drawn, and that it could not work as it was. Mr. Chester and other magistrates said, that they would rather see the Bill thrown out than passed with the exceptions which it contained. On these grounds, he thought that if such a Bill could be available for the purposes for which it was intended, it ought not to be founded upon the evidence at present before them, but that they ought to go before another Committee. He was convinced that the proposed Bill was one of the most mischievous, irritating, anomalous, and uncalled for that had ever been submitted to the House, and he therefore moved, as an Amendment, that it should be read a second time that day six months.

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

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


begged to second the Motion for the rejection of the Bill. He had been requested to oppose it, and he did so willingly, because he thought the Bill calculated to inflict great hardship on the labouring classes. In the report which had been alluded to by the hon. Member for Guildford there would be found unanswerable reasons against the Bill; for it would be found that it would inflict the greatest hardships upon the poorest classes, whilst it left those who were in easy circumstances totally untouched. To the poor people this Act would be cruelly oppressive. The valuable and interesting letters upon "Labour and the Poor" which had appeared in the Morning Chronicle would convince all who had read them of the injustice and oppressive nature of this measure. Those letters showed that thousands of the working classes did not receive their wages until late on Saturday night. Many of them were employed in running about the streets until the close of the Saturday, and how could they comply with the provisions of this Bill? It would prevent them from obtaining the proper necessaries of life. The Bill provided, that for eight months in the year no meat or provisions for human food should be sold on a Sunday, and that for the other four months they should not be sold after nine o'clock on Sunday morning. These were restrictions which inflicted no inconvenience on those who were in easy circumstances, and who could obtain their provisions at any time, and who had all the necessary means of keeping their food till it was cooked; but it was far different with the working classes, who had often no money till they received their wages at a late hour on Saturday night, or even till Sunday morning. Any one who had read the report which was made by the Committee of the House of Lords, must know that there were thousands of little workmen who were running about the town all Saturday night from shop to shop trying to sell their goods, in which they did not succeed often till a very late hour at night. Again, there many workmen employed by small masters who did not receive their wages till Sunday morning. There were thousands and tens of thousands of people, in short, who had no means of purchasing their Sunday's dinner till the Sunday morning; and who, under this Bill, would be compelled to make Sunday a fast-day, or else would be driven to the public-house. Then, there were, at least 200,000 who had no separate apartment, but who with their families lived in the same room with other families. If these people had the means of buying on Saturday night, how could they preserve their provisions from taint till dinner time on Sunday in the polluted atmosphere of their crowded rooms I It was clear such persons must live from, hand to mouth, and would therefore be greatly injured. It had been said that such a Bill as the proposed one would diminish the extent of Sunday trading—but it would increase the amount to a great degree of Sunday suffering. He was sure such a Bill would not have a chance of being adopted if the working classes had a share in the representation of that House equivalent to what the other classes had. Why Was it that the barber, who was almost exclusively employed by the poor man, was not allowed to carry on his necessary business after ten o'clock, while the cabmen and engineers, &c., were allowed to work all day? He had no respect for the petitions which had been presented in favour of these Bills. Let those who had scruples about supplying their poor neighbours with the necessaries of life, or those who desired to amuse themselves by expeditions into the country, shut up their shops—there was no compulsion on them to keep them open; but they were not content to do this, unless they could make their neighbours do this also. This was not religion; it was avarice, or rather the spirit of the dog in the manger, who would neither use what he had himself, nor let others use it. For such selfish conduct he had no sympathy. The Bill was conceived in the very spirit of intolerance, for it attempted to force on others the opinions which some of them, perhaps, entertained themselves. He objected to the title of the Bill, which was called a Bill to prevent unlawful trading on a Sunday. He believed there was Very little unlawful trading to be complained of. From Hyde Park-corner to Whitechapel, and from the bridges to the New-road, what was there to be seen on a Sunday but one gloomy line of dingy window shutters? The only exception was to be found in the poorest districts, where it was a matter of necessity that certain shops should be open. He believed there never was a time when there was greater respect for the Sunday; the crowded churches were evidence of that. He believed there was a general feeling of its being a religious duty to keep Sunday as a holyday, and he would rather trust to the good in- fluence of that feeling than embark in vexations legislation, such as that proposed by the Bill before them.


said, he knew that the inhabitants of the metropolis were extremely diversified in opinion with regard to this Bill; but the hon. Member for Lambeth had made a proposition in which he hoped the hon. Gentleman who had moved the Amendment would coincide, namely, that if this Bill should be allowed to pass the second reading without opposition, it should be referred to a Select Committee.


wished to know if the Committee would have power to examine witnesses?


had no objection.


Then, I agree to that at once.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed to a Select Committee.