§ Lord Hatherton
said, he had given notice the other day of his intention to present a petition relating to a subject which had occupied much of the public attention since the last Session of Parliament—he alluded to the practice of Sunday employments on canals. Their Lordships were aware that various petitions had been presented in the last Session from boatmen and others employed on canals, complaining of not being allowed any rest on the sabbath from the ordinary labours of the week; and they prayed for inquiry into the subject, with a view to some legislative measure for putting a stop to the practice. A select committee of their Lordships was soon after appointed, and a great body of evidence was collected on the subject. He believed there was not a canal of any note in the kingdom which did not send witnesses, who all concurred in proving that some legislative measure was desirable on every ground, moral, religious, and political. The witnesses stated, that the workmen on the canals were all most anxious for a remission of their labour on the Sunday, but that unless the Legislature interfered they saw no prospect of any such remission during their lives. 764 This was not that question of due observance of the sabbath, which had occupied the attention of that and the other House of Parliament some few years ago. It was, in fact, a question of police, and was so regarded by the committee who had investigated the subject. That committee did not report its opinions, but had collected a great body of evidence, which left no doubt of the injurious tendency of this continuous employment. The men employed on the canals were for the most part in a very low state of morality. Anything like education was grossly neglected, and few amongst them could write or read. In the city of Worcester, out of thirteen commitments for crime six were canal boatmen. This was enough to show the necessity of taking some step which would put an end to this demoralising practice. One reason why the practice was so general, was said to be that to put an end to it would occasion a serious diminution of the profits of the canal proprietors. This, however, was not a valid objection, for there were many instances in which canal owners had put a stop to Sunday trading, and the experiment had not occasioned any diminution of their profits, and no doubt was entertained by many canal owners that if the practice of Sunday trading was put down by law it would not occasion any loss to the owners, and many of them had expressed a wish that the suspension of trading on the Sunday should be general. But it might be asked, if they agreed in this respect, why might they not adopt some rules amongst themselves by which the practice could be put down? This would be found impossible by any private arrangement amongst the majority of canal owners. The canals were as open as the Queen's highway, and if any parties chose to go on with Sunday boating on canals, private regulations would not be found sufficient to restrain them. Attempts had been made for that purpose on some canals, by withdrawing the lock-keepers and their assistants on Sundays; but the experiment was unsuccessful. Under these circumstances, as individual efforts had failed, he was justified in asking the Government to introduce some measure which would be imperative on all the owners of canals. He therefore hoped that the attention of some Member of the Government might be directed to this subject, with the view of introducing some such measure as that to which he referred. He had only to add, 765 that it was no part of the object of those with whom he was acting, to put a stop to personal travelling on canals or rivers on Sundays.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
said, that he had been a member of the committee to which his noble Friend had alluded, and he admitted that the practice of Sunday trading on canals was one on which some legislative measure ought to be introduced; but he was not prepared to promise, on the part of the Government, that such a measure should be introduced in the present Session. There were already man important subjects under the consideration of Parliament, and he did not think that Government would like to open another subject of discussion before those were disposed of. If, however, his noble Friend would introduce some permissive measure on the subject, he would be ready to give it his best support.
§ Lord Hatherton
was glad to hear what had fallen from his noble Friend, as it showed the attention of Government had been called to the subject. As to the introduction of some legislative measure on the subject, he did hope that his noble Friend himself would take it up; as, coming from him, it would have a weight and influence which could not be given by any individual not connected with the Government.
§ Lord Wharncliffe
begged to repeat, that although the subject was deserving of great consideration, yet the Government could not undertake to do anything respecting it this Session. If his noble Friend thought it was a matter that was very pressing, it was quite competent for him to introduce a bill upon the subject.