HC Deb 03 March 1869 vol 194 cc557-63

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, he desired shortly to remind the House of the position of the question to which it related. Legislation on that question had been recommended by two Select Committees of the House of Commons, and one Select Committee of the House of Lords; and the present Bill, or one exactly similar, except on certain, minor; points, was introduced by himself, and read the second time without a division in that House in 1867, and. again in 1868; its second reading was carried on a division by a majority of more than 2 to 1. Two successive Secretaries of State under the last Government approved of considering the Bill in Committee, and of legislation on the subject; and he was authorized to say that the present Government also thought it desirable to allow it to go into Committee that it might be modified in the second clause, on which the Bill chiefly turned, and that some measure of that kind ought to be passed. At present the law in reference to Sunday trading rested upon the statute of the 29th of Charles II., and the lapse of more than 200 years since that Act was passed had greatly changed the state of things to which such legislation was applicable. Indeed, the position which that Act occupied on the Statute-book was of itself sufficient to show that it was not likely to be suited to modern circumstances, and required amendment, for it stood between the Statute of Frauds and the Act repealing the Writ de Hœretico Comburendo. The statute of Charles II. prohibited the dealing on Sundays in any article whatever, with the exception of milk, up to nine o'clock a.m., and of cooked provisions in places properly licensed for their sale. The method provided by that Act for carrying out its principle was one that had been found totally unworkable—namely, a fine of 5s., levied in the first instance on the goods offered for sale. The process was that the goods should be seized and sold by the authorities, the fines deducted from the proceeds of the sale, and the surplus handed over to the persons who had broken the law. Some time ago, in order to enforce the law, about 800 summonses were taken out in South London against persons charged with that offence, 700 of those persons promised to abstain from Sunday trading, saying that they should be thankful if all shops could be closed; but the 100 remaining on the list completely defied the law. The magistrates found they had not the power to make the law work, and the consequence, in regard to Sunday trading in the metropolis was that matters were getting worse and worse, and the law was now deliberately broken week after week m every street and square. He should mention, perhaps, that since the statute of Charles II., a small Act had been passed in the reign of Queen Anne enabling mackerel to be sold at certain hours on Sunday, as also another Act regulating the baking trade. In the year 1858 the then Archdeacon of Middlesex (Archdeacon Sinclair) went carefully into this subject, and compiled statistics showing that in certain districts of the metropolis, then comprising a population of about 500,000, out of nearly 13,000 shops 6,825, or more than half the entire number, were kept open after ten o'clock on Sunday morning. Since then matters had grown worse, tradesmen who formerly, in his own experience, did little or no business on Sundays now systematically violated the law, unwillingly in most cases, but driven on by the intense competition to which they were subject; and that was going on in all parts of London. Last Sunday he (Mr. Hughes) walked through a small district of the metropolis, and at the end of one street he found the three shops adjoining each other open to the public, and their proprietors canvassing for business. Those shops were a butcher's, a shoe shop, and a tinman's. He remembered, a few years ago, when the butcher did business in a quiet deprecatory way, and his neighbours were closed; now he was roaring "Who'll buy" in the middle of the street; the shoeman was polishing shoes in his apron, showing however his respect for the day by wearing his best hat and coat; and the tinman's door was open with goods deposited for sale round it. He firmly believed that what Lord Russell said in 1866 was perfectly true—namely, that unless Parliament interposed to do something in this matter they ran great risk of losing Sunday altogether as a civil institution, for he would not here treat of that day in its religious aspect. Much had been spoken and written about the want of reverence for the law in England of late years, and no doubt there were many signs which showed the fact to be so; but how were they to expect the people in general to retain their respect for law when it was allowed to be openly broken week after week, in every part of the metropolis, without the Government or the local authorities being able to stop its breach? A correspondent of The Times last autumn gave a description of the great bird fair near Bethnal Green. That description was not exaggerated, and it showed that in a large district, including two churches, a regular fair was held, in which not only fancy dogs and birds, but marine stores, haberdashery, and other goods, were sold not merely at an early hour but during the hours of Divine service. Parliament, he maintained, "was bound to make the law in that matter such as they believed would be for the good of the public, and also to give the local authorities the means of carrying it out. What, then, were the alternatives open to them? Firstly, they might sweep away all legislation on that subject, and leave Sunday trading entirely to the good sense of the community. He did not, however, believe the House would agree to that. Secondly, they might strengthen the Act of Charles II. by imposing penalties that could really be worked so as to make that Act one which could be effectually enforced in the metropolis and in other large towns. He would be sorry to see anything of that kind done. He came, therefore, to the third alternative. He thought it was better not to strengthen the Act of Charles II., and leave it simply as the governing statute on that subject. Still, as many persons felt great attachment to that statute, they might enact that, excepting so far as the Act of Charles II. was inconsistent with or was altered by the provisions of that Bill, it should continue unrepealed. Then came the question, what were the proper modifications of that Act which ought now to be sanctioned? The second clause of the present Bill stated what those proposed modifications were. No doubt there would be large differences of opinion as to what trading ought and what ought not to be permitted on Sunday morning, but that was a question on which only a Committee of that House could properly decide. He would simply now say that the principle on which the Bill went was this—That all provisions of a perishable kind might be sold up to nine o'clock on Sunday morning; that cooked provisions and some other articles should be allowed to be sold up to ten o'clock; and that certain of those articles, such as milk and cooked provisions, should also be allowed to be sold after one o'clock; but that between ten and one there should be no sale whatever of any articles. It was said that this legislation would specially affect what were called "the dangerous classes"—that there would be some disturbance in the metropolis if such a measure as that were passed. He did not believe that to be so in the least, and he had given the question a good deal of careful attention; but even if it were the fact, he had yet to learn that Parliament was bound to legislate only for the safe classes. It was, he held, absolutely necessary to legislate on that question, and it was their duty to pass such laws in relation to it, as to other matters, as they conscientiously believed would be most beneficial to the whole community, whatever particular class they might please or displease. And if the present authorities or the present police were not sufficient to carry out the law so passed, let them be doubled, or, if that were still found insufficient, let them be doubled again. The old system of letting all these things take their course, hoping that they would come out right of themselves, had been tried many years, and certainly in that metropolis it had proved a great failure. What the people wanted in London, as elsewhere, was not less government but more. They wanted in many departments a stronger hand than they now had; and as Parliament now for the first time represented every class, and, therefore, had the whole country at its back, surely it ought to be able to legislate in the direction he had indicated. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Thomas Hughes.)


said, he had not intended to address the House upon this Bill, but as no other Member appeared disposed to oppose the Bill at this stage, he would move its rejection. The question involved considerations connected both with political economy and with the liquor traffic, which ought to be kept distinct from mere Sabbatarian views: and he thought the better course would be to refrain from all partial legislation of that kind, which would only tend to make of their existing legislation on that subject "confusion worse confounded." If the hon. Gentleman would draw up a Bill distinctly embodying his own views, instead of vainly attempting to reconcile the divergent opinions of incongruous parties, who would not be satisfied with that measure when it had passed, the House would then be enabled to deal with it. As the Bill now stood he strongly objected to it, and begged to move that it be read the second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment. He was sure from personal knowledge and observation that such a measure would be distasteful to the great majority of the people of London. It was a mistake to suppose that the Sabbath was less observed in the metropolis now than it was twenty or thirty years ago. The fact was that there was a much more satisfactory observance than was formerly the case. The hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Hughes) on a former occasion brought forward this measure to please a certain section of his Lambeth constituency, but he was at a loss to know why he had again brought forward the subject with no further additional arguments in its favour than the hon. Member's reference to three houses—the butcher's, the tinker's, and the shoemaker's. The measure would operate harshly on the poorer classes, many of whom received their wages too late on Saturday to make their purchases on that day, and, moreover, had no pantries in which to keep their provisions in proper condition even for a single night during hot weather. Moreover it was necessary that Sunday trading should be allowed, in order that small tradesmen, who often had to borrow money late on Saturday night of the publican, should be able to procure the necessaries of life.

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

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


said, he would give his support to the Bill. He considered that they ought to legislate in such a way as would enable respectable tradesmen who had been accustomed to close their shops on Sundays in a Christian country to continue to do so. Again, the young persons employed all the week in shops ought to have an opportunity afforded them of going either to places of worship or to their homes on Sunday as they thought best. He, for one, disclaimed the name of Sabbatarian. The State enacted a day of rest as a civil institution, and to that he hoped it would steadfastly adhere. The State ought to enforce nothing but rest; it ought not to call upon those who rested to go to church. That was a matter of conscience. But he trusted the State would always secure to those who wished to go to a place of worship on Sunday the requisite time for doing so.


said, that as his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department was unfortunately unable to be present, he desired to state on his behalf that the Government did not wish to offer any objection to the second reading of the Bill. As it was usual to allow Bills of that kind to be read the second time in order that their details might receive careful consideration in Committee, he trusted the practice would not be departed from in that instance. By reading that measure the second time they would, after all, only bear testimony to what he believed to be the feeling of a great majority of the people of this country, that one day out of seven ought to be set apart for religious devotion if people desired it, or, at all events, for abstinence from ordinary work. How far that principle should be sustained by penal legislation was another question, and one that would call for careful examination in Committee. Therefore, in assenting to the second reading, his right hon. Friend did not pledge himself to any of the details of the measure. In Committee the difficulties which surrounded the subject would be clearly seen; and if his hon. Friend (Mr. Hughes) suc- ceeded in surmounting them, and in framing provisions which met with general satisfaction, he would render good service to the public. He concurred, in the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Leitrim (Mr. Brady) that the inhabitants of the metropolis were not degenerating in regard to the observance of Sunday. On the contrary, for many years past there had been a great improvement in that respect, and an increasing appreciation on the part of the working population of the desirableness of one day in the week being set apart by law for rest from labour. The Act of Charles II., as observed by his hon. Friend, was a very imperfect measure; it was no doubt passed in a time of considerable excitement, and it did not now fulfil the purposes for which it was designed. It could not be affirmed, therefore, that the law was in a proper state; although how it was to be amended was a matter of considerable difficulty. That, however, was a question for the Committee; and he, therefore, hoped that the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor) would not press his Amendment to the second reading.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.