HC Deb 05 August 1875 vol 226 cc598-602

Order for Second Reading read.


explained his reasons for opposing the second reading of this Bill the other evening, and, while he did not admire the lines upon which the Legislature proceeded, yet he quite sympathized with the difficulties of the case. He should have preferred this Bill being withdrawn altogether, and the particular alterations now proposed introduced by themselves. Again, instead of the Bill being made applicable to certain cases only, it should have been on a broad scale.


said, the late period of the Session prevented him following out the idea of the ton. Member. He, the other evening, indicated the course the Government were prepared to take on the question. He proposed to ask the House to read the Bill a second time, upon the distinct understanding that the first clause should be omitted, so as to render it a measure simply extending the powers now possessed by the Secretary of State for the remission of penalties in criminal cases to a similar remission of penalties in civil cases. That would operate as a wholesome restraint upon vexatious actions under the old law, while, on the other hand, it would not introduce that entire relaxation which would undoubtedly follow upon the repeal of that law itself. He therefore hoped that the House would now assent to the second reading of the measure.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson.)


observed, that the Act was passed for an entirely different purpose from that to which it had been applied, and it was merely by accident, as it were, that it was made to bear on the case of the Aquarium. The state of things which it was intended to meet having passed away, what should have been done was simply to repeal it, and had the Government determined to do so, it would have been supported by the general feeling of the country. The truth was that they coquetted with the question, and they gave encouragement to a small body of Sabbatarains by showing that they were afraid to go a step further than they proposed to go. This Bill, however, was permissive legislation in its worst form, because it was not dependent on the will of the people, but upon the will of the Government. He thought that whatever laws the people were called upon to obey, they should be able to find them in the Statute Book if they did not form part of the Common Law. The fact was, the whole state of Sunday legislation was getting into inextricable confusion. In the case of Sunday trading, a Permissive Act had been passed, making the execution of the law dependent on the will of the chief police authority of the district, or of two magistrates. This confusion was doing a great deal of harm; for opinion was much divided on the subject, and the question of civil and religious liberty became an important point in its consideration for the time being. As nobody was compelled to go to the Aquarium on a Sunday, to prevent anyone's going there on that day who desired to do so was a piece of gross tyranny which ought not to be permitted by the Legislature. He supposed the Bill was only intended as a temporary measure; but if the Government did not determine to repeal that Act next year, he should make a Motion to that effect.


said, that if a majority of the country were found to be in favour of the views of the hon. Member for Leicester, he should be ready to bow to that decision; but at present he was bound to recognize that the great preponderance of public opinion was the other way. He protested against a question of that importance being so dealt with at the end of the Session.


thought it quite absurd to suppose that in a place like Brighton the people should not have the opportunity of frequenting a place of amusement. The hon. Gentleman who had just spoken was amongst that class who were desirous of preventing anybody from being comfortable on a Sunday. He saw on all sides a class of people who endeavoured to interfere with the lower classes, or whatever they might choose to call them, in this country. He had the honour of being Recorder of that place where this dreadful affair arose. Nobody ever thought for one moment that there was any inconvenience caused to the most righteous people in this country from the fact that bodies of people went into that place of fishes, and to look at fishes. Heaven and earth! could it be said that looking at fishes on a Sunday was a wicked thing? How could anybody suppose that this country was to be regulated by a class of persons who entertained views of the most disagreeable nature, and that nobody was to be allowed to do what he liked? And if they had put themselves in that position that in the next world they would have to suffer, what consequence was it to his hon. Friend sitting opposite? It would not hurt him. He had always thought that there were a class of persons who called themselves extremely religious—more religious than anybody else—but he should like to know whether they took their religiousness out of the Bible or no. They had an opinion of their own; they worked away to make everybody uncomfortable; and they were the most disagreeable people in the world. The right way of proceeding would have been to repeal the old Act, and then everything would have gone on properly. He was sorry that had not been done; but, at the same time, the people would get something. It was now proposed that the Home Office should protect those persons who went to amuse themselves in the Aquarium, or the Botanical Gardens, or other places that were pleasant and agreeable on Sunday, and who did no harm to anybody, and he thought that in this respect the Government had acted very cleverly. He congratulated the Government on the course they had taken, and hoped they had now got rid of all the ridiculous rubbish he had heard in the House ever since he had been a Member of it, to prevent the great body of the working classes from enjoying themselves just as they pleased, so long as they did not interfere with the rest of the country.


did not pretend for a moment that this Bill could be looked upon as a settlement of the general question. That question, if brought under discussion, would inevitably raise a great deal of feeling on both sides throughout the country. Among the working classes, as well as in other sections of the community, there were, no doubt, many who believed that the Sunday ought to be strictly a day of rest. At the same time he, for one, did not wish to deprive people of the means of recreation on that day. It seemed to him that those who sought, as in the case of the Brighton Aquarium, to put in force the Act to which the present Bill referred, were really taking the strongest step possible to secure the repeal of that Act.


inquired whether the Bill might be taken as a temporary measure, because it gave immense power, not only in the remission of penalties in all actions in which they were recoverable, but even in political trials. He would suggest that, instead of the Crown having the power to remit the penalties, they should prevent the informers getting them. The money should go into the hands of the Crown instead of into the pockets of private informers.

Motion agreed to.

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