HC Deb 03 May 1855 vol 138 cc55-64

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that although he should be glad to see the Sabbath kept as a day of religious observance, yet he doubted whether it was desirable that the enforcement of that observance should be made the object of legislative enactment. He would suggest that the Bill had better be referred to a Select Committee, when he would then be able to judge of its merits, and give his vote accordingly. Looking at the question in a religious point of view, he contended that the Bill was not consistent with the principle upon which it had been framed, inasmuch as it admitted of certain exceptions both of time and place, with respect to the legal prosecution of Sunday trading. It would be lawful, for instance, under the operation of the Bill, to sell certain articles after one o'clock upon the Sabbath, but not before, while cream and milk might be sold even before nine o'clock. Now, surely, if it were a desecration of the Sabbath to sell certain articles at one particular hour on Sunday, it was equally a desecration of it to sell them at any other hour of the same day. Several attempts had been made to carry into effect the system of legislation which the Bill before them had for its object, but the framers of former measures had failed to obtain for them the sanction of the Legislature, in consequence of the difficulties by which the question was beset. For his own part, he could not help thinking that if they were to agree to the passing of the Bill, they would to a certain extent be legislating against the poorer and in favour of the more independent class of traders.


said, he should support the measure, mainly on religious grounds, though he was quite prepared also to advocate it on the lower grounds of expediency and political economy. They had been told by Mr. Bianconi that horses which rested on Sundays did more work in six days than others did in seven, and he maintained that the repose of the Sabbath was necessary both for man and beast. The petitions in favour of the Bill were mainly signed by those who were suffering under the operation of the present state of things, which led to unfair competition between tradesmen, and to injurious treatment of workmen. He must deny that the shopkeepers would be injured by the Bill, as the goods which could not be purchased on Sunday would be purchased on another day in the week, and the shopkeepers would have the day to devote to religion or to recreation, and their receipts would not be diminished. Looking at the question in an economical point of view, he was prepared to contend that labourers would produce more in six days' labour, having the seventh for rest, than they would were they to work on all seven days, and their wages would be in proportion. He thought, therefore, that on religious grounds, on grounds of expediency as well as of political economy, it was necessary that some such measure as this should be passed, and though there certainly were some things with which they might in consistency be called on to deal, but which this measure did not touch, he thought on the whole the Bill was a good and would be a beneficial one.


said, he could not allow the occasion to pass without thanking the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Lord R. Grosvenor), and congratulating the House on having the Bill brought before them. It had been so long since a Committee sat on this subject—in the year 1832—that it was probable its Report had escaped the recollection of the House. That Committee had expressed a very strong opinion on this question, stating that it was convinced that it was a proper object of legislation to obtain the solemn and decent observance of the Lord's day, and also to see that every man in the community possessed the enjoyment of that day of rest which had been mercifully given to him. That opinion of the Committee there could be no doubt was a sound one, and he was rejoiced that a measure had been brought forward which would give effect to that opinion; and he hoped it would receive the positive sanction of the House. He trusted it would result in relieving one class of tradesmen from the bondage which they endured from the competition of other tradesmen who kept open their shops on Sundays, and also for relieving the servants of tradesmen from labour on Sundays. He regretted that the Bill, which was likely to be so useful, passed over the sale of spirits and beer. The sale of fish, game, and other things was prohibited; but for reasons which were well known he supposed the noble Lord was not able to touch the sale of spirits and beer. When it was known that from six to ten on Sundays the public-houses were filled with persons carousing, and reducing themselves to the level of beasts, he could not conceive a subject more cognate to the present, nor more deserving the attention of Parliament.


said, he had understood the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Wilkinson) to be willing that the Bill should go before a Select Committee, and that he would take the sense of the House upon it when he saw the shape in which it came out of the Committee. Under these circumstances, it seemed hardly necessary to protract the discussion. The hon. Member for Lambeth had appealed to the Government, but the Government were quite ready to support the second reading of the Bill. He was not sure that the measure would accomplish all that was expected from it, but he should be very glad if it had the effect of enabling them to enforce the present law, for it should be remembered that this was no new principle. The existing law, however, contained defects, particularly as regarded the difficulty in enforcing penalties, which made it practically inoperative. He regarded the present measure, not as one to force upon the inhabitants of the metropolis the religious observance of the Sabbath, but it was one which would consult the general convenience of the inhabitants, while at the same time it would correct a great and crying evil. He believed the principle was in accordance with the wishes of the great majority of the tradesmen of the metropolis, and, under the circumstances, further discussion, he thought, had better be reserved for a future stage of the Bill.


said, he wished to inquire whether he was to understand that the Bill was to go to a Select Committee? According to precedent, all Bills of this nature went to a Select Committee before they were brought before a Committee of the whole House; and if this Bill was to go to a Select Committee, it would he hardly worth while to discuss its provisions now. He would, therefore, ask, what did the Government intend to do with regard to sending it to a Select Committee? All the Bills on this subject—that brought in by his hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Hindley), one which came down from the Lords, and one brought in by the hon. Member for Lambeth in 1851—were all sent to a Select Committee, and all fell to the ground. That had been the case with all the Bills of this kind which had been introduced. He did not distrust the intentions of the noble Lord (Lord R. Grosvenor), but he had undertaken to deal with a delicate and difficult subject. He (Mr. Buncombe) had not had a deputation of barbers, like the noble Lord, but he had had deputations from the working classes, and he knew that they had no desire to desecrate the Sabbath—they had no desire to make purchases on Sunday morning, but their necessities required it. He thought that on inquiry it would be found that there must be a great many changes in our social arrangements before you could legislate on this subject. In the first place, there was the question of paying wages on Saturday evening. It was said that some employers paid wages at an early hour; but it should be recollected that a great deal of the work done in the metropolis was piece-work, and a working man who took home his work on a Saturday evening, though he might find his wages ready, yet had to wait to get his next week's work given to him, and it was often past twelve o'clock before he got not only his wages, but his work; and how was he at that late hour to lay in his meals for the following day? Again a great many contracts were made with workmen by builders who took them into the country on Monday morning and brought them back late on the Saturday evening. How could these men manage to make their purchases on the Saturday night? He was told that working men went to the public-houses on Saturday and spent their wages in getting drunk, but it was no such thing, for they had not time to do so after they got their wages. Another change must be made before you could legislate on this subject with effect: you must improve the dwellings of the poorer classes. What was the use of a man in this town, who often lived with his family and five or six others in one room, bringing in meat or other articles on Saturday evening; they would be putrid before the night was half over. You must, therefore, in the first place, give those classes better dwellings. It was all very well for those who had larders and cellars to say that those persons should make their purchases on Saturday night. He was told that many tradesmen themselves were anxious that there should be a law against trading on Sunday, and that the very circumstance of their trading themselves did violence to their consciences. But no one was compelled to do so, and the conscientious man should suffer for conscience sake. What was it that compelled them? Why, they said that if they did not, their neighbours would profit by it; and they were not the sort of conscientious men that were worthy the attention of the House of Commons. But he might be asked, what ought to be done? He was told that the trading on Sunday afternoon was disgraceful, and ought to be put down; but that was a mere question of police. They had had many Bills on this question—such, for instance, as Sir Andrew Agnew's Bill; but the only successful lawgiver on this subject was Charles II., but those laws were not sufficiently stringent for the present time. He would have one law for the whole country, for why should a measure be confined to the metropolis? Why should Birmingham and Liverpool, and other large towns, be exempt? There should be one law, which should declare that there should be no Sunday trading after half-past ten in the morning of any sort or kind, and it should be applicable to rich and poor. That would be legislation with regard to the Sabbath worthy of the attention of the House, but such little things as the sale of milk, eggs, and fruits, which they were going to discuss, were unworthy of that assembly; but they should enact one general law for all classes of the community.


said, that having been largely connected with the working men in the metropolis receiving wages, and having had some experience of them, he could say that there was no class better able to judge of their own interest; and as regarded the value of a day of rest to them, he was convinced that if they were referred to it would be found that they would claim their right to that advantage. The intelligence of that class was not to be measured by the wages they received, and they were entitled to retain a privilege which had been sanctioned by a higher legislative power than that House, and which had declared that there should be a day of rest and a cessation from the ordinary labours of life.


said that the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe's) account of the result of sending Bills of this kind to a Select Committee was not very encouraging, and after the fate of these Bills he was unwilling to send this to a Committee upstairs—especially as the clauses of the Bill were very few, and such as he considered the House could make practicable. When his noble friend introduced the Bill he (Sir J. Shelley) said that he was favourable to the principle of the Bill, but he could not pledge himself to all the details of a Bill which he had not seen. There were some points in the Bill which he thought objectionable; still he thought it was not a Bill which was for the benefit of tradesmen only, but one for the promotion of the comfort of the working classes, and he was glad therefore that it had been introduced. There was a growing feeling that there should be greater opportunities for relaxation afforded to the working classes. He never believed that you could make people religious by Act of Parliament; but the rest of Sunday was the greatest he himself knew, and he wished to see it enjoyed by the working man. He hoped the noble Lord (Lord R. Grosvenor) would not send the Bill to a Select Committee. There was a prejudice out of doors against Bills of this kind, but all the former Bills on the subject were impracticable from their very nature. He thought, however, that this would be a practicable measure. He could only say that if any one doubted the state of trading in the metropolis on Sunday let him go to Clare Market, a part of his constituency, and he would find that it was carried on all day; and much to their credit he had that evening presented a petition in favour of the Bill signed by all the butchers in that locality with one or two exceptions. He therefore hoped the House would give their assent to the second reading.


said, that this had always been found to be a very difficult subject for legislation, but the reason why other measures had failed was because they had gone too far. His hon. Friend the member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) was mistaken in supposing that this Bill was unfavourable to the working classes; and as to the necessity of making other changes before such a measure was passed, he thought such a Bill would rather force masters to pay wages earlier, as it would be urged on them to do so to enable their workmen to go to market on the Saturday, whereas now they did not mind detaining them late on the Saturday, because they could go to market from eight till one o'clock on Sunday. As to the lower class of tradesmen, they had presented many petitions in favour of the Bill; and he had laid some stress on one petition, which came from the New Cut, in Lambeth, because it had been said on a former occasion that the tradesmen in that locality could not do their business if such a Bill passed. He would support a measure which would enable all persons better to observe the Sabbath.


said, that no answer had been given to the objection of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe), that this was merely a local Bill; and he was of opinion that nothing could be more injurious than legislating for particular places. He thought that the 9th clause, which gave large powers to the police for enforcing the law, would lead to great oppression if it passed as it stood.


said, he hoped, if the Bill went to a Select Committee, that gentlemen would be put on it who were practically acquainted with the management of large concerns, and the mode of paying wages earlier on Saturdays and on Fridays, for their experience and philanthropic feelings towards the working classes would be found of great value. The real question was the regulation of the payment of wages, so as to enable working people to arrange their affairs in such a manner as to leave time for rest and recreation.


said, he hoped that if the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, that Committee should be composed of the class of men just described by his hon. Friend (Mr. Hadfield), who were practically acquainted with the inconveniences suffered by working men, and how they should be remedied. The principle of the Bill was somewhat different to that which it had been described to be by some gentlemen, who seemed to think it was based on the religious ground of the observance of the Lord's-day. But, in fact, it only went to the question of trading, and had nothing to do with that species of work, and especially of household service, to which the commandment applied. It was curious that the Bill came to the House recommended by its supporters on the ground that it was not in conformity with public opinion. It was said that a number of tradesmen were obliged to open their shops on Sunday, or their customers would abandon them; but if the public feeling were in favour of the principle, it would be more likely that such conscientious persons would obtain customers. If the Bill were founded merely on the wants or the consciences of society, it ought to be rendered more comprehensive, and applied to the whole country as well as to the metropolis, and not only to butchers and bakers, but to many things much more important. After the recommendation of the Committee on public-houses last year, he should have thought that no Bill should have been brought in on this subject which did not extend to the question of the enjoyments of the people, as well as restrictions on the existing state of things on Sundays; but it appeared that the recommendations of the Committee with regard to restrictions were to be carried out, but the other recommendations were not attended to. He should not, however, oppose the Bill at this stage.


said, that the keeping of the Sabbath holy was morally binding on every man; and how could that principle be carried out when the Sunday was desecrated in so extraordinary a manner in the metropolis? Every Sunday, on his way to a place of worship, he passed through a locality near to that House called Strutton Ground, where there was more trading than on a week day, and he was sure that such a Bill was required to put an end to such trading, both in the metropolis and all over the kingdom. He would support the Bill in every stage, and any measure against all trading on Sunday, whether in goods, clothes, or spirituous liquors.


said, he hoped that the House would not, by referring the Bill to a Select Committee, violate one of its own recent enactments, and give it an intramural interment, which would certainly be the result of such a reference. Three Committees had previously sat upon the subject, and had produced three blue books, so that he thought the House of Commons were quite competent to deal with the measure themselves. In respect to the objection of the measure being only applicable to the metropolis, he would remind hon. Members that it was always the practice to confine such measures to the metropolis in the first instance, with a view of testing their efficiency, and afterwards, if necessary, to extend them to the country generally. The great reason for proposing this measure exclusively for the metropolis was, that the evil it proposed to remedy was greater there than in any other part of the kingdom. Indeed, it was remarkable that in many of the towns in England, such as Exeter and Halifax, there was no such thing as Sunday trading. If the Bill be read a second time he would give ample time before he proposed its going into Committee, for any classes who had solid objections to it to bring them before the House.


said, he was quite ready to support the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex. As an old citizen of London he was fully aware of the great inconvenience and immorality attendant upon the existing practice of Sunday trading. He hoped that the measure would not be referred to a Select Committee—a course which would occasion a great loss of time and considerable discussion to no purpose.

Bill read 2o.


then proposed that it should be committed to a Committee of the whole House.


said, he should move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee in conformity with the practice usually pursued in reference to Bills of the same hybrid character. He understood the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department to agree to this course. [Cries of "No, no!"] He hoped that hon. Members would allow the right hon. Gentleman to speak for himself. The hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Wilkinson) had declined to divide the House on the second reading, with the understanding that it would be referred to a Select Committee. This was one of the most stringent measures introduced within the last few years. ["No, no!"] He said yes, for it proposed to punish a man by sending him to the House of Correction for fourteen days—after they had taken all his goods from him, and left him unable to pay the lawyer's costs. If they passed the Bill in its present shape, they would have continual riots and rows between the people and the police upon this subject.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "Committee of the whole House," and insert the words "Select Committee," instead thereof.

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


said, he was sorry that the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) had misunderstood what he had said. He had never assented to referring the Bill to a Select Committee. He had merely suggested to the hon. Member for Lambeth (Mr. Wilkinson) to postpone his objections until the Bill was in Committee. It was altogether a mistake to suppose that there was any rule of the House for referring such measures to a Select Committee. He thought that the House, when in Committee, was just as competent to amend the Bill as a Select Committee.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill committed for Wednesday, 13th June.