HC Deb 25 July 1871 vol 208 cc253-60

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Question again proposed, "That the Clause (If twenty householders resident in the neighbourhood shall sign a memorial complaining of the commission of any such offence, then, and in such case, the said officer shall and he is hereby required on receipt of the said memorial to proceed against the party or parties so complained of: Provided always, That nothing in this Act contained shall limit or affect the right under the said Act of King Charles the Second of any justice or justices of the peace of any city, borough, or town corporate where the said offences shall be committed to convict the offenders of the same upon his or their view,)—(Mr. Thomas Chambers,) —be read a second time.


opposed the clause on the ground that it would practically render the Bill inoperative. Mr. Bee Wright, who had been frequently alluded to, did not stand alone in this matter, and all that was required under his hon. and learned Friend's proposal was to get 19 more like-minded men, householders in the neighbourhood, who would co-operate with him.


said, he did not require 20 fanatics to act in concert. The Act of Charles II. was a law not for persecuting people, but for protecting them. In fact, it was that statute which prevented workshops from being kept open and agricultural operations from being carried on during the Sunday. He would remind the Committee that only once in 200 years had a person like Mr. Bee Wright taken the proceedings which were so justly complained of. Under the clause, 20 residents in the neighbourhood must be got together in order to get the law in motion, and he thought this was a sufficient safeguard against abuses.


said, that nothing was easier than to get signatures for any purpose if persons only took the trouble to go round and ask for them. If such a clause as this were adopted, it would be the duty of all those who wished to see Sunday observed, but observed in a proper spirit, to vote against the third reading of the Bill.


said, that hitherto Sunday had been properly observed in the main, because an impression existed in the public mind that the law was opposed to Sunday trading. Latterly, however, an individual had started up who, by ill-advised prosecutions, had done his best to render the law odious. In one case a poor woman had been convicted no less than 17 times for—[An hon. MEMBER: Violating the law]—violating the law, no doubt, but in much the same way that hon Members did when they bought cigars at their club, and paid the porter at the door. As soon as it was proposed, however, to put the law in force against persons in a higher position in life the magistrates suddenly discovered that they were not called upon to act. The effect of forcing the subject upon public attention must, if they were not careful, be to sweep away the law of Charles II., the existence of which, in its general results, had proved beneficial. He regretted that the Home Secretary had not taken the matter into his own hands. If the Amendment here proposed were agreed to, associations everywhere might take up the proceedings commenced by Mr. Bee Wright, or might force the police to do so, and the result would be that there would be far more prosecutions than ever.


said, that the Amendment, if carried, would nullify the intentions of the Government measure, and would give renewed vitality to the Act, which at present was rendered powerless by the action of the magistrates. It was a mistake to suppose, however, that the Rev. Bee Wright was the originator of those prosecutions. Before his time a very respectable association existed, against the members of which he had nothing to say, except that they were of those who seemed to think that they could never serve God unless they were prosecuting man.


said, he was sorry the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department himself was not present, as the same arguments which had proved efficacious elsewhere might have have convinced him in the House. His representative, the Under Secretary, of course had his brief, and could not depart from it. The police, with whom the Government proposed to leave the discretion, had the power in their hands at the present moment, but did not exercise it. What reason was there to suppose that they would do any better in future than in the past? He denied that this was a question of rich against poor; it was one in which the deepest interests of the poor themselves were concerned. The form of Sunday trading which he most complained of was that to be seen in many poor and crowded parts of London, where perfect fairs were got up and held for the sale of altogether unnecessary and even ridiculous articles. No inspectors of weights and measures were present, because no duty was required of them on Sunday, and the poor, of course, were utterly victimized. An instance of the unsatisfactory working of the present system might be seen in the New Cut; one-half of which lay in the borough of Southwark, while the other belonged to the borough of Lambeth. In the Southwark portion, under the provisions of a local Act, the Sunday nuisance had been entirely swept away; but in the Lambeth district, where there was no local Act, the parish authorities shut their eyes to the nuisance, and the police would not interfere. The Government proposed to leave the matter in their hands. Now, it was quite childish to suppose that the police would do what they had not hitherto done. The hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) proposed that 20 persons should be authorized to call upon the police to put the law in motion, and considering that a reasonable proposition, he should give it his support.


admitted the possibility of abuses arising from the practice of Sunday trading, but contended that those abuses were slight in comparison with the hardships inflicted upon the very poor, who were not to be permitted to purchase articles of which they stood in need on the only day on which it was possible for them to do so. If the Bill passed, the police would be responsible to their superiors for the mode in which they carried it out, and could not therefore become as disagreeable to the poor as Mr. Bee Wright had been, that person being only answerable to his employers, a body of gentlemen whose satisfaction with their servant would be in proportion to the amount of annoyance and inconvenience he inflicted upon the poor.


said, that if the permissive principle contained in the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) was adopted by the House, he should move that not less than two-thirds of the inhabitants of any particular place should have the power to put the law in motion. As Member for Chelsea he had had ample opportunities of observing the hardship inflicted upon the very poor by the fact of their not being allowed to make purchases of necessary articles on Sundays. No modification of the principle of the Home Secretary's Bill would be satisfactory.


expressed a hoped that hon. Gentlemen opposite would not consent to a violation of the law which would lead to a desecration of the Sabbath.


explained that the object of this legislation was not to repeal the Act of Charles II., or to recognize the right of every individual to do what he pleased as to the day and manner of trading. The whole scope of the Bill was simply to place the enforcement of the Act in the hands or under the control of public authorities, so as to prevent public scandal or a public violation of the Sunday. If the proposal of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) was rejected, he should be prepared to move the insertion of a clause giving the power of enforcing the law to justices of the peace, whether stipendiary or otherwise.


said, he thought that if the Under Secretary of State introduced words to carry out this intention, and giving power of enforcing the Act to any justice having jurisdiction within the Metropolis, the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone might be content with such a provision.


said, he hoped the hon. and learned Member would not accept such a proposal, for the public needed protection.


approved of the clause proposed by the Government, and hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone would not press his Motion to a division, because that would convey a wrong impression to the public outside.


said, he thought it would be desirable not to confine the power of putting the law in motion to the police authorities, but to include with the magistracy the churchwardens or overseers, in order to avoid the difficulties pointed out by the hon. Member for West Kent (Mr. Talbot). In the borough of Southwark the parochial authorities had taken effective proceedings with regard to the New Cut.


considered that it would be objectionable to rely entirely upon the police in reference to the Act. He objected to this, that there seemed to be something in modern Liberalism which objected to the action of the individual citizen, and would transfer everything to the administration of the police. This seemed to him to be reverting to despotism. He approved the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Hinde Palmer) that the churchwardens should be empowed to enforce the law. He would support the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. T. Chambers) if he went to a division.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 26; Noes 60: Majority 34.

New Clause— (Any such prosecution or other proceeding may nevertheless be instituted, by or with the consent in writing of any justice of the peace or stipendiary magistrate having jurisdiction in the place where such offence is committed. No such prosecution shall be heard before the justice of the pence or stipendiary magistrate by whom or with whose consent the same has been instituted. Nothing herein contained shall affect the provision of the said Act by which any justice of the peace having jurisdiction in the place where an offence is committed is authorised upon his own view to convict the offender,) — (Mr. Winter-botham,)brought up, and read the first time.


said, he could not understand why a magistrate should be permitted to convict an offender on his "own view," and yet should not be allowed to do so on information laid before him by somebody else. The fault was, however, that this clause which Government wished to introduce in order to please both sides, was absolutely inconsistent. He strongly objected to a magistrate being permitted to convict upon his "view." That meant if a magistrate went to some place and saw people selling periwinkles he might convict them, and if they did not pay he might send them to the stocks, for there were the words of the Act itself. It was impossible for the Committee to understand the effect of what it was proposed to do unless they carefully considered the phraseology of this Act of Charles II., which dealt with many other things besides buying and selling—such as drawing a stage coach, and matters of that kind. The sole object of the present Bill was to place the power of giving effect to the "spirit" of the Act, not to the "letter" of the Act in the hands of some responsible authority, and he regretted very much that the Home Secretary had not confined himself to the original Bill which met all difficulties. He trusted, therefore, that the Under Secretary of State who had charge of the measure would look into the matter before the Report, and strike out these objectionable words.


promised that he would carefully re-consider the question with the view of amendment on the Report, if such should be found necessary.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause be read a second time."

The Committee divided: — Ayes 64; Noes 24: Majority 40.


moved to leave out, in line 2, the words "justice of the peace or," with the view of leaving the jurisdiction in the matter to the stipendiary magistrate alone. It was not a power that should be placed in the hands of an ordinary justice of the peace, and indeed an hon. Member of the House and a magistrate was himself one of Mr. Bee Wright's committee.

Amendment proposed to the Clause, to leave out, in line 2, the words "justice of the peace or."—(Sir Charles Dilke.)


said, it was impossible to accept the Amendment. The clause only gave power to the ordinary justices to give their assent to the prosecution; the case must be heard by the stipendiary magistrate.


said, that as stipendiary magistrates were not general over the country, the Act would be practically inoperative if the clause was left as it stood.


said, that London was really under the jurisdiction of stipendiary magistrates, who were carefully trained lawyers, responsible in their functions for the peace and good order of the Metropolis, and to them the matter ought to be left. There were, however, in Middlesex and Surrey a great number of other magistrates who had no legal training, and any one of whom would thus be enabled to compel the stipendiary magistrates to proceed with prosecutions in spite of their better judgment; and it must be remembered that the Act was most stringent and positive in its terms, so that they must either convict and fine—or refuse to recognize the Act of Parliament at all, which was in every way objectionable—and simply brought the law into contempt, as was the case at this moment. He thought it perfectly scandalous that the magistrates had been for months fining poor people under this Act; but the moment the rich were touched, came to the determination that they need not in future take any notice of the law on the Statute Book.

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

The Committee divided: — Ayes 68; Noes 17: Majority 51.

Amendment proposed to the Clause, To insert after the word "committed," in line 4, the words "Provided that nothing in this Clause shall extend to the district within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Board of Works."—(Mr. Locke.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."

Amendment amended by leaving out the words "Board of Works," and inserting the words "Police District."

Question put, "That the words 'Provided that nothing in this Clause shall extend to the district within the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Police District,' be inserted after the word 'committed,' in line 4."

The Committee divided: — Ayes 12; Noes 72: Majority 60.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "instituted," in line 7, to the end of the Clause.—(Mr. Collins.)

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

The Committee divided: — Ayes 55; Noes 29: Majority 26.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday.