HL Deb 22 February 1870 vol 199 cc670-84

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, he desired, as briefly as possible, to recall to their Lordships' recollection the circumstances in connection with Sunday trading, which called imperatively for legis- lative interference. The law on the subject, as their Lordships were aware, was contained in a statute of Charles II., entitled "An Act for the Better Observance of the Lord's Day, commonly called Sunday." This statute was divided into two parts; one of which he might call commanding, and the other prohibitory. The former, which related to the manner in which Sunday was to be observed by all persons, was in these terms— That all and every person or persons whatsoever shall, on every Lord's Day, apply themselves to the Observation of the same by exercising themselves thereon in the duties of piety and true religion, publicly and privately. The prohibitory part was as follows:— That no person should exercise any worldly labour, business, or work of his ordinary calling on the Lord's Day, under the penalty of 5s. and forfeiture of all goods shown forth or exposed to sale on that day. There were certain exceptions in the Act, but they were very few, being confined to the dressing of meat in families, the dressing or selling meat in inns, cookshops, or victualling-houses, "for such as otherwise cannot be provided," and the crying or selling milk before 9 a.m. and after 4 p.m. Dismissing the first part of the Act of Charles with the remark that it was an attempt—to use a hackneyed expression—to make men religious by Act of Parliament, and therefore had, probably, produced very little effect; it was notorious that the second part, whatever its original efficacy might have been, had in modern times been flagrantly and openly violated, and that its enforcement had proved impracticable. He apprehended that the reason for this was, first of all, the construction which had been put upon the Act, by which it was held, that no person can be convicted for having kept open shop on Sunday, unless it is distinctly proved that he has sold something—which, as their Lordships might imagine, was frequently impracticable; and as to the forfeiture of the goods, that can only take place upon conviction before a magistrate, and no summons can be taken out till the following day, when the goods have either disappeared or been consumed. Moreover, the single penalty of 5s. for a whole day's transactions, whatever it might have been originally, was so insignificant, considering the present value of money, and in comparison with the profits derived from Sunday trading, that persons, he was told, had, on being challenged, jeeringly offered to pay it to the policeman at once, or even in advance. Under these circumstances, it was not to be wondered at that Sunday trading was carried on in the metropolis to an extent hardly conceivable by those who had not turned their attention to the subject. He was informed, as the result of careful examination, that not less than 10,000 shops were open every Sunday in the metropolis and its suburbs, the traffic not being confined to things perishable, but including miscellaneous articles, which might be as easily and conveniently bought on a week-day. Tradesmen, indeed, in what he might call the infected districts drove a brisker trade on the Sunday than on any other day; and purchasers, on the other hand, liked to go to market on that day, because, in addition to buying what they wanted, they could go to the various exhibitions that were open. Sunday after Sunday, thousands on thousands of persons went to these places, where they enjoyed at once the convenience of a market, and the pleasures of a fair; and thus these places were scenes of tumult and confusion, which caused serious annoyance to those who were desirous of spending the day in a more becoming manner. There appeared in The Times, during the year 1868, a graphic description of the state of things prevailing in the neighbourhood of Shoreditch, which he had reason to believe was still applicable both to that and other parts of the metropolis. After referring to the way in which Divine Service was interrupted, and to a letter addressed by the Bishop of London to the Superintendent of Police, urging the suppression of the evil, the writer said— Since that time the police have been much more energetic than before in preventing the congregation of persons in the immediate vicinity of the churches to which we have alluded, but in the present state of the law the authorities, though able perhaps to modify, are powerless in their efforts to destroy what the most indulgent observer must confess to be a flagrant violation of Christian feeling and social decency. … The operations of the lair extend over five streets—Club Row, Bacon Street, Brick Lane, Sclater Street, and Hare Street. Hare Street is an extension of Sclater Street, and the four other thoroughfares form an irregular quadrilateral. … Every Sunday Rotherhithe and Bermondsey send up their contingents; the commercial interests of the Borough, Chelsea, and Wandsworth are carefully regarded; and even such remote places as Norwood and Croydon are not entirely unrepresented. For the most part these men have no definite occupation. The predilections of the bird-fanciers however, cannot be mistaken, for their short thick necks, their closely-cropped hair, and their supercilious contempt for a display of collar or shirtfront display an hereditary admiration for the gladiators of the ring. After describing some of the features of the fair, the writer proceeded thus— A moment, and one hears words of ejaculation or disappointment, as the result of a pigeon match which has just been decided is known, but the expressions are intensified by the most terrible blasphemy. Of particular incidents of obscenity, which cannot fail to meet the eye on a visit to the fair, we cannot, for obvious reasons, speak. …. The Rev. Isaac Taylor and other clergy are exerting themselves energetically to diminish the evils of which this Sunday market is the cause; but in the present state of the law, while they may be successful in preventing an increase of the scandal, an attempt to suppress the fair altogether would be absolutely hopeless. This was no new evil. For nearly forty years the attention of Parliament had Loon directed to it, and Committees of both Houses had recommended legislation. In 1847, though the evil had not then attained such enormous dimensions, a Committee of the House of Commons made this Report— Your Committee have examined many witnesses, of a great variety of opinions, who nearly all agree that Sunday trading is carried on to a great extent in the metropolis, and that in many parts it has been on the increase for several years past. Evidence has also been given which goes to prove that it is not confined to articles of a perishable nature, or of necessity, but extends to many things that may be purchased on any other day of the week; as boots and shoes, hats, clothes, drapery, toys, furniture, crockery, ironmongery, and grocery, &c. … Your Committee have no hesitation in expressing their conviction of the injurious effects of Sunday trading. They have reason to believe that more than 5,000 tradesmen in the metropolis, with probably three times that number of journeymen and boys, are almost entirely deprived of the benefits derivable from one day of rest out of the seven days of the week. … Though your Committee do not consider that the penalties of the law can be properly applied to the strict and complete observance of the Sunday, yet they feel called upon to recommend the introduction of a measure for effectually prohibiting public marketing and the open exposure and sale of goods on Sundays; the penalties to be enacted not being applicable to the sale of necessary articles of food for a certain period of the day, previous to the customary hours for the celebration of Divine worship. Your Committee are encouraged to believe that a Bill founded upon the above principles would be beneficial to all the parties interested, and most useful to the community at large. The wish of your Committee is to liberate (not to fetter), and to give the different classes engaged in Sunday trading a day of rest, without interfering with the necessary comforts of the other classes of society. Several Bills had been introduced from time to time both in this House and in the House of Commons dealing with the subject. In 1850 his noble Friend the Earl of Harrowby introduced a Bill in this House which was referred to a Committee which reported in its favour, with some alterations. Bills were introduced also in 1832, 1845, 1855, 1860, and during the last four successive years, from 1866 to 1869, all based on the recommendations of the Committee of 1847. All of these were intended, not as some people supposed, to force people to be religious, but to give them the opportunity of employing the Sunday in a becoming manner. These Bills had invariably been thwarted by the combination of two opposite classes. One class objected to legislative interference altogether, thinking that every man should e allowed to do what was right in his own eyes; while the other, composed of very conscientious men, were unwilling to admit of any exceptions being made in the Bill, as amounting to a legislative sanction for the desecration of the Lord's Day. Now, to the first class he would say—"Your objection comes rather too late, because for 200 years there has been an Act directed to this object. It is impossible, therefore, to say, that the question of the propriety of legislative interference has not been determined. Your real objection to the measure is that being breakers of the law, you do not like a proposal to make that law more efficient." With regard to the other class, he was bound to respect their opinions, but he must say that they entered into a strange combination with men of opposite sentiments to their own for the purpose of defeating Bills of this description. He would say to them—"Your objection has been anticipated, because in the Act of Charles II. there are exceptions, and therefore you must object that the exceptions contained in the Act of Charles II. are quite sufficient, and render the introduction of any others unnecessary." He would address himself seriously and earnestly to this class, and ask whether they did not witness with deep concern the scenes which took place every Sunday at the different fairs and markets where Sunday trading was carried on, and he would ask them whether, after the experience of several years, they could hope to carry a Bill through both Houses unless such exceptions as were found in this Bill were introduced in it? He would call their attention to the remarks of the Edinburgh Witness, the organ of one of the most Sabbath-observing bodies in Scotland, with reference to the Bill of Lord Robert Grosvenor, now Lord Ebury, but equally applicable to all Bills of this kind— Its provisions are not too strict upon Sunday dealers. … It may seem that these are no great reforms to be accomplished, and neither are they; but the authors of the Bill are in the right to proceed cautiously. It is an axiom that can never be safely overlooked, that laws ought never to outstrip the manners of the people, if they are to be operative at all; and in no case is this more true than in the laws which are to interfere with the private and domestic habits of the people. There are large districts in this semi-heathen metropolis where the markets are in full swing just as a few stragglers in the neighbourhood are on their way to church, the wives of the workmen never thinking, apparently, of corning out to market till between ten and eleven on the Sunday forenoon. Suddenly to close all these shops together would cause a revulsion which the enemies of Sunday observance would know well how to take advantage of, and would throw the cause back further than ever. These were words of prudence and wisdom; and he (Lord Chelmsford) would ask these conscientious persons whether some responsibility may not attach to them if by opposing such Bills—merely because though advancing in the right direction they did not go as far as they; desired—they prevented a mitigation of the evil. He disclaimed any intention of forcing men to be religious; but there were thousands of tradesmen who, with their wives and children, apprentices and servants, were now debarred the blessed privilege of a day of rest. He had heard it said, indeed, that they had only to agree together that they would close their shops, and the thing would be done without an Act of Parliament. But the experiment of making arrangements in different districts had been repeatedly tried and failed, through the refusal of some persons to enter into the agreement, and thereby reaping the benefit of a monopoly. It had also been said that if persons wished to attend church and duly observe the day, they had only to close their own shops. But though, strictly speaking, men ought to sacrifice their worldly to their spiritual interests, the infirmity of human nature must be considered. Many of them were carrying on a humble business, which barely sufficed for the support of their families. If any portion of their trade was diverted from them distress would come upon them, and to expect them to throw into the hands of their rivals an entire day's business would be putting a yoke on their necks which they were unable to bear. Thousands of these tradesmen had petitioned Parliament ever and over again to interfere for their protection; and the apprentices and servants, who were compelled to work because their masters did so, were still more entitled to protection. He might, however, be asked, what better prospect there was than in former years of carrying a measure of this land. Now, recent circumstances had led him to feel a sanguine expectation of success. When in 1866 he introduced such a measure into this House, an Amendment was moved to read it a second time that day six months; but the second reading of the measure was agreed to without a division. In Committee, the several clauses had been carried, some upon divisions; but on the Report, the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees, without having given him the slightest warning, proposed, as the sole provision, that Sunday trading should be prohibited between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. That Amendment was earned by a majority of 14; whereupon, this being contrary to the principle of the measure, he (Lord Chelmsford) declined to persevere with the Bill. The noble Lord the Chairman of Committees thereon, said he would carry it through himself, and proposed the third reading. That kind and good man the late Lord Taunton divided the House, and there being a majority of one for the third reading, he divided again on the Motion that it should pass—the result being that the Bill was thrown out by a considerable majority. At that time, thinking he had had rather hard measure, he (Lord Chelmsford) was not disposed to raise the question again. In 1867, however, Mr. Thomas Hughes, then Member for Lambeth, at the request of many of his constituents, introduced a similar Bill in the House of Commons. It was read a second time without a division, the Home Secretary, Mr. Walpole, stating that it deserved attention, and would effect a considerable improvement. It was committed, but had not got through Committee on the 24th of July, and was not proceeded with. In 1868 Mr. Hughes re-introduced it, and the then Home Secretary, Mr. Hardy, expressed an opinion that it ought to go into Committee, and there was a majority of 68 to 31 for the second reading; but the pressure of other business again prevented its proceeding further, and it was withdrawn. Nothing daunted, but rather encouraged, Mr. Hughes revived it last Session, when the second reading was unopposed; and in Committee the present Home Secretary said— It was impossible to deny that there was good reason for dissatisfaction with the laws which had been made to enforce the observance of the Sabbath, the Acts already passed for that purpose being notoriously violated. As regards the present measure, which, to a great extent, was one of detail, he had thought that the best course was to allow its passage through Committee, and to decide, on its coming out of Committee, whether the Government should give it further support at the next stages."—[3 Hansard, cxcv. 801.] He thought that, after the approval of its principle thus repeatedly expressed by the other House, and by successive Home Secretaries, he was warranted in anticipating a successful result this Session; but he had hitherto refused to introduce it in their Lordships' House, and had only consented to do so now on the assurance that if their Lordships should send it down to the other House before Easter its chance of passing would be greatly increased. He trusted that this anticipation would be realized, and that the earnest prayer of tens of thousands of tradesmen would be at last heard—for it was almost a reproach to Parliament that it should be still considering a measure recommended by a Committee of the House of Commons nearly forty, and by one of this House twenty years ago, although during that interval the evil had considerably increased. Unless a remedy is applied, Sunday trading is allowed to go on increasing without cheek, and the result will probably be that predicted by Earl Russell in 1866— There is some reason to fear that this will go on until the question of buying and selling on Sunday is looked upon as a matter beyond legislative interposition, and it will be supposed that the law allows both buying and selling on Sunday just as on any other day."—[3 Hansard, clxxxiii. 1012.]

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Lord Chelmsford.)


wished, in the absence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, to thank the noble and learned Lord for having introduced this Bill. It appeared to be a moderate and well-considered measure, directed against a very serious evil. The demoralizing influence of Sunday trading could be doubted by none who had observed it, as anyone might easily do by going into the Now Cut, or even into some of the back streets of Westminster, or the eastern part of St. James's. This was, to a great extent, a traders' Bill, for the Sunday traders themselves as a body were most desirous of relief from what they felt to be a burden. Some, no doubt, from conscientious scruples, but most from a desire to have one day's rest in the week, were anxious for the assistance of Parliament in what they, rightly or wrongly, thought themselves unable to do unassisted. There were those who did not feel that duty was in the end its own reward, and others desired the protection of Parliament against less scrupulous rivals. He could give an instance where, as the noble and learned Lord had pointed out, the neighbourhood had agreed among themselves to abstain from Sunday trading. All went on well for several weeks, and they were congratulating themselves on their freedom; when one, more needy or unscrupulous, re-opened his shop; another and another followed, until at last everything went back to its former state. But it was a mistake to suppose that it was only the sellers to whom Sunday trading was an evil. Buyers, it should be borne in mind, were almost equally injured, for the facility of Sunday trading enabled and encouraged the working man to return home late on Saturday night, with his wages in most cases diminished by the places he had been visiting. Sunday trading made the Sunday home uncomfortable, for it induced the wife to go out shopping on a Sunday morning, leaving the room untidy, so that when the husband came down, after, perhaps, a lengthened slumber, he found his home so uncared for that he went to seek comfort elsewhere. It also put attendance at Divine Service out of the question; and often prevented the children from being sent to school. Working men were fully aware of those evils; and last year he was one of a large deputation that waited on Mr. Gladstone respecting the Sunday opening of places of amusement, when many working men spoke strongly on the moral and physical necessity to the well-being of their class of a day of rest. The present Bill fairly met every objection to which a measure of this kind was liable. It would prevent Sunday trading, which the present law did not, while it would exempt everything which the most indulgent construction could regard as a necessity, and it would inflict no hardship on the buyer, for the markets were open late on Saturday nights. At these most of the articles the poor required could be procured; and though there were some, doubtless, which in their crowded and ill-ventilated dwellings could not well be; kept, there would be ample time to purchase these in the hours allowed by the Bill on Sunday morning. There was, of course, the objection which one could not but respect—that by confining the penalty to certain cases the Bill appeared to legalize those excepted: but, strictly speaking, this was not the fact. It did not repeal the Act of Charles II., it left the law with regard to articles not exempted as before; but it did not endeavour to inflict penalties which experience had shown could never be exacted. It was surely worse practically to sanction wholesale Sunday trading by the mere maintenance of a law which could never be enforced than by moderate restrictions to mitigate evils which could not be entirely suppressed. Nobody pretended that men could be made religion, temperate, or chaste by Acts of Parliament; but legislation could diminish temptation by restricting the opportunity; and this was the principle of our licensing system, as well as of the recent proceedings against betting-houses. The Bill, though it would not put an end to Sunday trading, would considerably diminish it, it would help those who desired to help themselves, it would lesson temptation, and encourage the formation of habits which growing slowly, like all habits, might bring about a much better observance of the Lord's Day and be of incalculable good to the religion, morals, and health of the people.


said, he acknowledged the extent to which Sunday trading at present prevailed, but he was not sanguine enough to think that this Bill would effectually stop it; its principle had, however, been several times before Parliament, both in this and in the other House, and it had commanded a certain amount of support. The present state of the law was certainly far from satisfactory, for magistrates scarcely knew how to act, whether to enforce the existing law or to consider it in abeyance; and the noble and learned Lord (Lord Chelmsford) had shown that the sellers, at any rate, ought to be protected. There were, however, one or two points in the Bill to which he desired to call the noble and learned Lord's attention. As he understood it, it did not repeal the statute of Charles II., which therefore would still apply to the metropolis and other large towns included in the Bill.


explained that the measure would apply to the metropolis and towns with 10,000 inhabitants, and that elsewhere the old statute would remain in force.


thought that in that case the old statute should be repealed as regarded those places.


said, that the Bill introduced last Session contained a proviso that nothing therein contained should interfere with the Act of Charles II., except as far as the two measures were inconsistent. This, however, was un-necessary, for, if the affirmative part of an Act was inconsistent with a prior one, it was thereby virtually repealed.


still thought it would be advisable in Committee to make the point clear. In order to facilitate the operation of the measure, it was desirable to make the hours fixed for closing as uniform as possible; but he observed that the sale of some excepted articles was to cease at 9 and others at 10 o'clock.


said, this was an oversight. It should be 10 in both cases.


wished also to point out that in case of a second conviction, the penalty of not less than 20s. and not more than 40s. for each transaction would be rather severe; for a person who, during a single quarter of an hour after the prescribed time, had sold twenty oranges or twenty boxes of lucifers, would thus be fined not less than £20, and there was no alternative in default of payment; and he did not think penalties of so severe a character calculated to ensure conviction, but rather would defeat the object of the Bill. The object of the Bill all their Lordships must approve, for it was to secure to the lower classes a weekly day of rest; and while thinking that Amendments might be made in Committee, he, on the part of the Government, should offer no objection to the second reading.


said, that remembering the noble and learned Lord's (Lord Chelmsford's) declaration in 1866 that he would have nothing to do with Sunday Bills again, he was surprised at his taking up the question once more; but presumed that, after the recent complaint that the House had nothing to talk about, he had thought it a good opportune for again presenting his little Bill. For his own part, however, considering the press of other measures, he saw no chance of its passing through both Houses this Session, and, if so, it was unwise to revive it. He should be inclined to support an Amendment like that moved by the noble Lord (the Chairman of Committees) on a former occasion, for that was a clear and distinct course; whereas, the Bill, as it stood, was unsatisfactory. While forbidding the sale of vegetables, fish, and poultry after 9 a.m., it permitted the sale of fruit in the afternoon. Now, in the districts affected all these things were often sold in a single shop—so that it would be open in the morning for some articles and in the afternoon for others. This evidently would not work. The delay in carrying out the recommendations of the Committees might be attributed to Parliament having thought better of the subject. And so far from the evil having increased during the last thirty years, he was convinced, having regard to the whole country, that the Sunday was now much better observed than at the earlier period. Remembering that the introduction of measures on this subject had some years since led to not and disturbance, Parliament no doubt felt that it would be wiser not to proceed with this kind of legislation. He believed that this measure would give rise to great discontent; but though he deemed it unwise, he was not prepared to oppose the second reading, but would trust to its being amended in Committee, unless, indeed, the noble and learned Lord who had introduced the measure would consent to its reference to a Select Committee.


trusted that the noble and learned Lord who had charge of this Bill would not consent to any proposal to refer it to a Select Committee. There was no doubt that the objections which might be urged against the Bill were very strong. This was sufficiently shown by the fact that there had been already so many failures in attempts at this kind of legislation within the last few years. These objections were of a character that could not and ought not to be passed over in silence by any candid speaker. He would shortly notice them. The chief objection to a measure of this nature was that it was a Bill of class legislation; and those who belonged to clubs, of which they could make full use on Sundays as well as other days, unrestrained by anything except the rules of the establishment, could not but acknowledge that there was much that was true in this charge. They could not, also, lose sight of the fact that a Bill of this kind, if it passed, must greatly interfere with the means of livelihood of a great many of the poorer classes. Again, another objection was that they were trying to do by legislative enactment that which they should endeavour to secure by moral influences. Having thus stated the objections which might be urged against a Bill of this character, he still could not help feeling that, great as they were, the arguments in its favour preponderated. It had been shown that Sunday trading was seriously on the increase; and that being the case, when no reasons founded on increased necessity could be specified, it became their duty to consider whether there was not now a positive danger of a gradual desecration of the Lord's Day, whether this ought to be left unchecked in a Christian country, and whether, moral influences having failed, it was not now the right time to turn their attention to legislative and repressive measures. The noble and learned Lord who introduced the Bill (Lord Chelmsford) had called attention to the scenes of license and iniquity to which this system of Sunday trading gave rise, and it was for them to consider whether it was not their duty to endeavour by some such measure as this to suppress a traffic which led to evils so grave and serious, even in the face of the arguments, strong as they were, which might be urged against the Bill. Again, he felt that they were bound to protect the honest God-fearing tradesman, and to some extent to assist him in his struggle to do his duty, and to resist the temptations to which he was exposed: because the retail tradesman in the poorer districts, though frequently anxious to close his shop on the Sunday, was often prevented from doing so, not only by the disinclination to losing the small gains he might otherwise make by the additional day's trading, but by the real and positive fear of offending, and so of losing his week-day customers. The evils, then, were therefore, so great that he felt himself bound to give his support to the noble and learned Lord in his desire to pass a measure for which he believed the time was no more propitious than before, and for which the extension of the Saturday half-holiday had done much to pave the way.


thought that restriction should be placed upon the buyer as well as the seller.


replied, that if an obstacle were put in the way of the seller the would-be buyer could not possibly make any purchases.


said, he was as anxious as any of their Lordships could be that the means should be afforded the working-classes of having at least one day in the week to themselves. How they should spend that day it was, of course, beyond the power of Parliament to determine; but he thought it desirable that they should have the opportunity of self-cultivation,—of cultivating their hearts if not their heads,—some portion of their time to devote to their families and their homes. All this was plainly desirable; but, further, any means that could be devised for securing to the working-man his one day of rest, would secure him from the fate into which he feared he must fall—that the system of continuous labour would end in his having to work seven days for the wages which would otherwise be paid for six. He believed moral suasion and education would give the people a taste for home pursuits and rational recreations, and, it was to be hoped also, for something higher and something better; but he felt considerable misgivings as to whether any legislation would. He certainly should not oppose the second reading of a Bill introduced with so excellent an object; but when they approached the consideration of the clauses, he greatly feared it would be found extremely difficult to give effect to the objects aimed at; for if, by any apparent severity of its provisions, the measure were rendered odious to those whom it was intended to benefit, or if, by those who wished to mislead the people, unfounded contrasts were drawn between the mode in which rich and poor were dealt with—although he believed that no one was benefited so much as the poor man by securing to him a day of rest—yet, knowing that such arguments could be used, and, no doubt, would be used, he greatly feared that, as the result of such a measure, some of those means which now existed of prevailing upon the bulk of the people by moral influence to enjoy the day of Sunday rest would be lessened or withdrawn. No doubt there were still. and would, districts, continue to be, large districts in which, whatever might be done in the way of the larger education of the people—and this year he hoped that something would be done in that direction—large numbers would refuse to be brought within the sphere of its influence; but he very much doubted whether their own happiness or good would be promoted in the end by any compulsory effort of legislation. Nevertheless, he should approach the measure of the noble and learned Lord with the most earnest desire to discover if anything were practicable in the direction in which he desired to lead them. As regarded the Act of Charles II., discussions which had been held in their Lordships' House within the last two or three days as to the exact effect of repealing an Act of Parliament by implication showed that, if they intended to deal with that Act at all, it ought to to be by plain words and by direct enactment.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.

House adjourned at half past Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.