§ Bill, as amended, considered.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson.)
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
said, this was a very important Bill, and, as affecting the rights and rational liberties of the people, ought not to be allowed to pass unnoticed. When its provisions were explained, it would be found that it did no justice to any person subjected to it; but, on the contrary, it absolutely encouraged and asked people to break the law, and to ignore statutes which remained upon our Statute Book. The previous stages of the Bill had been passed so hurriedly that very little attention had been called to them, and certainly attention had not been called to the course of the Government in altering the provisions of the measure. The Bill was avowedly introduced to meet a scandal which existed, and was regarded by the majority of the people, as one which applied to places which they resorted to on a Sunday—places which were perfectly harmless in their character, but for the opening of which, under the existing laws, penalties must be imposed. The Government themselves were so desirous to decide the law that they took the unusual course of directing an action to be brought, in order to discover whether it was illegal or not to keep these places open, and it was determined that it was against the law that they should be open. Now, it was either right or wrong that this statute should remain in force. The case was 692 taken under the statute of George III., which enabled, as was represented to the Government, private informers to obtain an advantage and put money in their pockets by enforcing a law which everyone condemned. This Bill was therefore introduced, and as it was originally framed it contained a provision that no such actions were in future to be brought without the permission and fiat of the Attorney General; and then, with a strange amount of inconsequence, there was another provision that the Crown should have power to remit every penalty which should be recovered by any common informer, not under this, but any other Act. Now, what was good in the Bill was the power of stopping these actions being brought, and what was bad was the provision which allowed the penalties to be remitted. The Government, however, had struck out the clause which prevented actions being brought, and had retained the clause giving power to remit the penalties. What then was the result? Under this sanction, the proprietors of the Brighton Aquarium were told to continue to open their building on Sundays, which, in other words, meant that they were told to break the law, because it had been decided that it was illegal that the place should be open. If the statute was a wrong statute, let it be repealed; and, if it was a right one, they ought not to encourage parties to break it, neither ought they to remit the penalties; but the excuse was there was not time for further legislation. That might be an excuse for not legislating rightly; but it was no excuse for legislating wrongly. They were now doing that which had never been done before. They were encouraging those who had been convicted of having broken the law to continue to break the law. If that was not the intention of the Bill, why was it presented to the House? If the Aquarium was not to be opened, why did they want the Bill? and if it was to be opened, they told the proprietors to break the law. In fact, they told the proprietors of the Aquarium to pay no respect to an Act of Parliament, because, if they were convicted under the Act, the Home Secretary would remit the penalties. But it seemed to him if such a course as this were to be followed, the action ought to be taken before the proceedings at law were commenced. Why 693 did they tell the common informers to bring actions, and then, when the case was decided, say—"We will remit the penalty?" If the penalty ought not to be enforced, surely the action ought not to be brought, and, therefore, he contended that they ought to begin by stopping the action. He also wished to point out that the Bill made no provision as to costs, and the informer would, therefore, still be entitled to his costs, because he would have enforced a proper remedy, while they had not the courage to stop him before he commenced his action. It was notorious that the Government first believed it was proper to stop the action. Why had they not had the courage of their opinions? Why had they not proceeded in the course of recent legislation—as, for instance, the Sunday Trading Bill of 1871? The present was a similar action for the non-observance of the Sabbath, and why did they not give the same power of veto? Though the Bill had been brought in for the relief of the Brighton Aquarium, the proprietors would not dare to open it after the Bill was passed. They could not submit themselves to penalties day by day in order to trust to the discretion of the Home Secretary to remit the penalties. One other objection he had was, that the Bill must be temporary and fragmentary, and he considered they ought to strike at the evil at once, which they were not doing by simply allowing these charges to be brought and then remitting the penalties. If the law were to be altered, surely it should be left to Parliament and not to the Home Secretary to say how far penalties should be enforced. He did not know if he was too late; but, if not, he should like to move that the Bill should not extend beyond a year, or, at any rate, he hoped an assurance would be given that it should be worked upon simply as a temporary measure, and be limited to a repeal of the Act of George III., giving penalties to the informer.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
said, he was sorry the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Sir Henry James) had not taken an earlier opportunity of raising the question, because he (Sir Henry Selwin-Ibbetson) quite admitted the subject was one which ought very justly to be fully discussed, and which might lead to considerable debate in that House; but what was the position 694 in which the Government were placed in regard to it? The attention of the Government was first directed to the subject by the action Terry v. the Brighton Aquarium Company. That action resuscitated an Act which had been for many years in complete abeyance. Up to that time common sense, if he might so call it, had regulated the conducting of places of the kind; but suddenly, in the middle of the Session, an Act was resuscitated under which not only the Brighton Aquarium would be classed as a disorderly place, but it was strongly insisted that the Act extended far beyond even that, and that places where no money was given at the door would come under its operation. He had in his possession at that moment, a writ issued and proposed to be tried against such places as the Botanical Gardens, a place where members friends were admitted on Sundays by tickets, and where no entertainment was provided. To quote an extreme case the piers at the different watering-places might be included, although in some cases the persons going on these piers did not pay money. [Sir HENRY JAMES: No.] The hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to differ on the point, but there could be no question that it was a matter of great doubt, and, further than that, it was a question whether railway companies, supposing they advertized to run to places of amusement, were liable to penalties. All those points were placed before Her Majesty's Government, and it was evident that if the law were put in force in those extreme cases, a state of things would be introduced which the House would not be disposed to sanction. The Brighton Aquarium in consequence of music and refreshment being provided came within the Act, and a desire existed to test the question, whether without these attractions the Act applied. The result was that the case was tried as a friendly suit before Baron Pollock, in the middle of June, and there it was decided that, notwithstanding all additional entertainment was withdrawn, the place was still within the Act. It therefore became a question whether under those circumstances they would amend the Act or repeal it. He know there were many hon. Members in the House who were prepared to repeal the Act; but neither the Home Secretary nor himself, on the part of the Government, 695 were prepared to take any such step. At the same time, the question of amendment was one likely to lead to protracted discussion which they were equally unwilling to ask the House to go through at that stage of the Session. There remained, therefore, only two courses open to them—namely, first, to require the fiat of the Attorney General to authorize the informer to bring those civil actions; and, secondly, to bring in a Bill giving increased power to the Crown to remit the penalties which, and a regulation as to costs, would, he hoped, operate to discourage informers and prevent those actions. Those were the reasons which induced his right hon. Friend to bring in the Bill—a temporary measure it might be—and he hoped and believed it would have the effect of preventing those vexatious prosecutions, and that the powers vested in the Judge under the new Judicature Act would equally prevent the vexatious infliction of costs.
§ SIR HENRY HAVELOCK
said, he thought in every point of view the proposed settlement of the question was unsatisfactory, except in as far as the Bill might be regarded as a temporary measure, to operate during the Recess, and to be dealt with in a future Session in a comprehensive and satisfactory manner. The legislation of this country had for many years recognized the Sabbath Day as a day of rest, as well as of religious observance. He was prepared to recognize the rights of conscience, and therefore he recognized, on the one hand, the right of the people to visit places of innocent and instructive amusement on Sundays; but, on the other hand, he recognized the right of religious persons to express their religious feelings. It, however, seemed to him that there was at that moment, and had been for some time, a movement by a certain set of persons in this country who thought Sunday should be a day of amusement here as it was on the Continent, but he thought that did not by any means represent the feelings of the people of the country. There was another class who, not caring for the feelings of either of the classes alluded to, came in and put the law in motion for their own objects, as in the case of the Brighton Aquarium; and the Government, apprehensive that if the Act of 1781 were abolished, the effect might 696 be to lead to the introduction of entertainments not so interesting as the Brighton Aquarium, had done the best that could be done at the present late time of the Session in bringing in the measure now under consideration; but it must be clearly understood that it was only a temporary compromise. After the course taken by the Home Secretary on the Labour Laws the whole country could trust him with the temporary exercise of these powers, in the hope that in the early part of next year more satisfactory action would be taken.
§ MR. LOWE
said, although he had regarded the measure as a temporary one, and that was the only excuse that could be offered for it, still he did not look upon it as altogether satisfactory, because it was not limited to matters which arose from opening those places on the Sabbath. The Bill was general in its terms, and would change the law in regard to all qui tarn actions, because a temporary difficulty had arisen with regard to this particular case of the Brighton Aquarium. He, however, must say he objected to being asked to pass legislation which was very much wider in its scope, amounting, as it did, to an entire alteration of the law. That was a most important subject, and one which should not be dealt with hastily or without the greatest care. Surely, it could not be right that by a temporary Bill, brought in alio intuitu, the power should be taken away of bringing those actions under any circumstances whatever. That seemed to be an immense innovation in the law, without the attention of the House having been drawn to it. It indicated a levity of legislation, and almost took away one's breath to think of the vast extent and great number of circumstances to which it was applicable. The Bill took away, as far as he could see, the remedy, whether good or bad, for enforcing the statute, and the Under Secretary of State when he spoke could not have been aware that it was a temporary measure. But, if this were the case, even then he might consent to strike out the words in the 2nd clause "or under any Act of Parliament," because that was a matter of enormous consequence. If the Act had been frequently put in force for the purpose of extorting money, he could understand the course that had been taken. But the House should be reminded that this 697 Statute had not been heard of for years. That being the case, they ought to make the Attorney General a kind of grand jury, and thus prevent unnecessary annoyance being given to the public. Instead of doing this, they allowed these actions to be brought, with the chance of whether or not the Home Secretary would deprive those who took action of the fruit of their trouble. Surely, in a temporary and suspensory Bill, power should not be given to alter the law as proposed. A most important provision, too, had been introduced in the Act—namely, that while the Act would allow penalties to be inflicted, it would also give to the Crown increased power to remit them. That was a most unreasonable course. The law as it stood related to all cases of bribery, but at one blow this temporary measure would alter the whole course of the existing state of the law relating to such actions. It was most strange legislation. At any rate, as he had before observed, he thought they ought to strike out the second clause, after the word "Act," in the second line. As to the course taken, it seemed to him to be the very worst that could be. The Act had only been recently resuscitated, and the best course would have been to repeal it altogether. Nobody cared for it, and nobody wanted it; but the Government could not screw their courage up to that point, and they invited low people to bring actions on all sorts of subjects connected with the question, and it then proposed to give the Crown power to remit the penalties. He could not imagine any course more undignified than that taken by the Government, and although he knew that it was of no use to protest, yet as one who for a short time had held the office of Home Secretary, he felt it his duty to point out that they were violating every rule and principle on which Government ought to act in a matter of this kind.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, that in order to meet the difficulty suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James), he would move the re-committal of the Bill, with the object of inserting a clause providing that the Act should expire on the 1st of June next.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, he hoped the House would not agree to the suggestion, and that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Lowe) seemed to have mistaken the effect and extent of the Bill. It would not have the effect of doing away with the qui tarn actions, and it would not establish so great an alteration of the law as the right hon. Gentleman seemed to imagine. An Act was passed in 1859 which gave Her Majesty power to remit certain penalties imposed upon the conviction of an offender, although they might be partly payable to private persons, and there were a great many Acts under which penalties could be enforced, and which might be covered by this Act. The present Bill would only very slightly increase that power. [Mr. LOWE said, that Act only applied to cases in which the Crown was plaintiff.] This was not the case, and the difficulty which arose in cases like that of the Brighton Aquarium, or the Botanical Gardens, was, that they could not be regarded technically as prosecutions which would come within the Act of 1859, but had to be treated as civil actions for the recovery of penalties, for which at present there was no power of remittal. Hence the necessity for the Bill, which he considered to be, although a very slight, still a very desirable and proper alteration of the law.
§ SIR HENRY SELWIN-IBBETSON
appealed to the hon. Baronet (Sir Charles Dilke) not to press his Amendment, because, so far as he could see, the Bill under discussion would only be a temporary one. The suggestion he had made should be brought under the notice of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. He would also remind the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James) that it would be possible to carry out the views he had expressed in "another place."
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
said, he thought it too serious a matter to pass over. The accidental absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department ought not to prevent the wishes of the majority from being carried out. The House might well take the responsibility of making the measure 699 a temporary one, and, as that could easily be done, he hoped the Amendment would be agreed to.
§ Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.
§ Word added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to. Bill considered in Committee.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
proposed the re-insertion of Clause 1, which had been struck out when the Bill was in Committee previously.
said, he would suggest to the hon. and learned Member that he should bring on his proposal after the clauses had been gone through.
§ Clause 2 (Power of crown to remit penalties).
§ MR. LOWE
moved, in page 2, line 2, after the word "Act" to leave out "or under any Act of Parliament passed before or after the passing of this Act." The object was to limit the present measure to the Sunday Observance Act, 24 Geo. III.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
supported the Amendment, and said he thought the Bill ought to be confined to the particular cases it was intended to meet.
§ SIR EARDLEY WILMOT
hoped the Bill would be limited as proposed. He appealed to the Government whether at this period of the Session it would not be better to withdraw the measure. The present was not the way in which legislation of the kind should be passed. The House had not been fairly dealt with in that particular instance, and he asked his hon. and learned Friend to consider whether at that late period of the Session it would not be well to withdraw the Bill and bring it on next Session.
§ MR. CHARLEY
said, that if the Bill was to be a temporary one, it could not matter much what its precise terms were. He thought if Government gave way on the point, and consented that the measure should be only a temporary one, hon. Gentlemen opposite would be satisfied 700 with the promise. The statement made by the right hen. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) was certainly erroneous, because he (Mr. Charley) knew the persons who prompted the Brighton action, and he could assure the Committee that they did not do it from any motives of cupidity, or to get the penalty. They did not touch it, and did not get a farthing; therefore, it could not be said that they acted from the motives that had been imputed to them. They were actuated by a desire to vindicate the great principle of Sunday rest. As for the hon. and learned Member for South-wark (Mr. Locke), he recommended him to go to the Continent, where there was little observance of the Sunday. In this country the working classes were of a different way of thinking from the working classes on the Continent, and they were of opinion that the day should not be given either to amusement or to work ["Order!"]
said, he must call the hon. and learned Member's attention to the fact that he was out of Order, the Question being, as to whether the Act should apply to other Acts besides the Sunday Observance Act.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, the whole question was, was it desirable to give Her Majesty power to remit penalties for acts done when these penalties were recoverable by action, and that only. The law had already given to the Crown power to remit penalties when the persons against whom the penalties were obtained were committed. There was no real difference between the two cases, he submitted, and there was no reason why Her Majesty should not have the power of remitting the penalties in the one case as she had in the other. And why should not this Bill be one of general application? This particular case of the Brighton Aquarium was tried under an old obsolete Act which many persons, no doubt, would like to see go on to the end of time. It had given rise to the necessity for the alteration in the law; but because that particular case had happened, and had given rise to the necessity of the revision of the law, it did not seem to him that that alteration should be restricted, and made applicable to one Act of Parliament merely, when others existed to which it might well be 701 applied. He did not think the Bill would give rise to a conflict between the authorities.
§ MR. LOCKE
considered that it would be advisable to repeal the particular Act in question. He did not know, until the Aquarium case came on, that there was such an Act, and no one else seemed to know it. According, however, to the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Salford (Mr. Charley), it was the most delightful Act of Parliament that was ever passed, so that they had all been for so many years past living in a state of happiness without being aware of it. He believed that the great majority of hon. Members did not like to offend a certain class of people, but would be very happy if the Act were repealed. Hon. Members said to the managers of these aquariums and such institutions—" Don't take money on Sundays;" and the persons in authority were willing not to do that; and as to the views taken by the legal faculty of the case tried, the Judges in both the Courts said it was highly improper, or words to that effect, that proceedings should be taken under that Act. No one had spoken in favour of it; and, on the whole, instead of taking the course the Government were now adopting, he considered it would be much better to repeal the Act. ["Order!"]
said, the hon. and learned Member was not in Order, inasmuch as he was dealing with the first part of a clause not before the Committee.
§ SIR HENRY JAMES
said, it seemed to be the feeling of the House that the measure should only be a temporary one. Whilst the Opposition made no objection to the Government bringing forward a Bill to meet the necessities of the time, surely the Act should only be a temporary one. The powers should apply to the Act which had been referred to, and to that alone. If necessary, let Parliament alter the several laws, but let it be done permanently and after mature consideration, and not in such a Bill as that before the House.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he should be glad to see the Bill restricted in its operation to one Act of Parliament. Should the Bill pass in its present form he believed it would prove a great curse to any Government that had to carry it out. He would not envy the Home Secretary 702 his position, as he could pretty well imagine what kind of life he would have between the saints upon the one side and the sinners on the other. The country had not had time to consider the Bill in a more extended sense, and on these questions, between sinners and saints, it was not easy for anybody to come to a conclusion.
§ MR. MUNTZ
urged upon the Government to accept the Amendment. He could not see what object could be gained by the words extending the operation of the Bill to penalties levied under any other Act than this obsolete one of the reign of George III. They ought not to repeal by a vote of this kind provisions of several Acts of which they knew nothing whatever. Dealing summarily as it did with cases such as that before the House, its provisions ought to be carefully considered. The whole Sunday question must soon be carefully considered in an enlightened manner; it could not be shunted much longer.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, that as he had stated the other day, no one could look upon this measure as a satisfactory way of dealing with the question. The whole question of Sunday was a great and important matter, and it was one in which the public took great interest. There were large masses of the people strongly in favour of the observance of Sunday. At the same time, many of the persons who held this view very strongly had not the slightest wish to interfere with the innocent recreation of the masses of the people, always provided that it did not entail compulsory service or work on the part of other persons. The opinions of the highest authorities had been taken to see how the penalties could be legally commuted. The Act had been enforced in one instance, and eases under its provisions were still pending in other instances, connected with places which no person could possibly think were disorderly houses. He could assure the House that he had not the slightest wish that the places should be shut up during the Sunday, and it was because he wished to prevent frivolous and vexatious prosecutions from taking place during the Recess that he ventured to bring forward the present Bill. He did not wish, however, to take more responsibility on his shoulders than he had need to take, and, as his object was to 703 prevent frivolous and vexatious prosecutions from taking place, he had no objection to accept the suggestion now made. He should not like to put in the Bill that this should be as Act for one year only. This would tie them down too much, and he would, therefore, oppose any limitation as to time. He would also strongly oppose the re-introduction into the Bill of a clause already struck out. In conclusion, he expressed a strong hope that the Bill would be allowed to pass.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause amended, and agreed to.
§ Clause 3 (Short title).
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, he hoped that before long they might have a system established based on the principle of public prosecution.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ SIR CHARLES W. DILKE
said, that, after the explanation they had just heard and the debate which had taken place, he would not move the Amendment he had intimated.
§ Bill reported; as amended, considered; Amendments made:—Bill read the third time, and passed.