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Sunday Trading Bill—Bill 68 (Lords) Committee

Volume 203: debated on Wednesday 3 August 1870

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Order for Committee read.

, in moving the Order of the Day for going into Committee on this Bill, said, that it had come down from the other House, and was in charge of the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Thomas Hughes), who having gone on a lengthened tour to the United States, had requested him to take charge of it. It was a very different Bill from that of the hon. Member for Warrington (Mr. Rylands); it had been read a second time by a large majority, had repeatedly received the sanction of the House, and had passed the other branch of the Legislature; and it was supported by the Members of the present and of the late Governments, and almost all the prominent Members of the House In order as far as possible to meet the views of some hon. Members who had hitherto opposed the measure, he was prepared to limit its application to the metropolis. If found to work well in London, it might afterwards be extended to other large towns.

said, it would be quite impossible for him to allow that stage to pass without entering another protest against this measure, which would do nothing but mischief. The Bill professed to be framed in the interests of the trading classes, but it would prove most injurious to the humbler portions of those classes. It was founded on no principle; unsettled everything and settled nothing. It had been gravely said that the present war upon the Continent was a judgment upon the nations engaged in it for their non-observance of the Sabbath, and that similar judgments might be expected to fall on this country in the event of its refusing to adopt the principle of this Bill—a little piece of blasphemy in which only the very religious would permit themselves to indulge The Hyde Park meeting on the subject had been sneered at, and the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Thomas Hughes) said that the attendance consisted mainly of roughs, and that not thirty of those present had any idea of what was going on. But The Times, not usually very favourable to meetings in Hyde Park, had given a much more reliable account of the proceedings, and the chairman who presided at one of the many platforms on that occasion had written to him to say that all the speakers were representative men, and were attended by large personal followings. Since then, another large open-air meeting had been held in Whitechapel, which had also been described in The Times, with a suggestion that those who took part in promoting legislation of the character proposed would do well to make themselves acquainted with the sentiments of those whom such legislation would primarily affect. The magistrates of London, who knew far better the social requirements of the working classes than the hon. Member, were generally opposed to such measures. The Bill was essentially a class Bill, and a wanton attempt to oppress the poorer classes. It was said, indeed, that it would prevent the streets from being turned into menageries and flower gardens on Sundays; but let those who held such language go and look at the thousands of well-dressed persons in the Zoological Gardens. He held that it would be dangerous for the House of Commons to pass such a Bill; and that if they did pass it, they would soon afterwards have to repeal it. Were such a measure held to be necessary, it should be introduced by the Government, and not left to a private Member. He hoped the Government would interfere and stop the measure.

said, he hoped his hon. Friend (Mr. J. G. Talbot) would not press the Bill, which must give rise to lengthened discussion; and it was of great importance that the Foreign Enlistment Bill should be considered that day. He was very far from joining in the unmeasured denunciations heaped upon the Bill by the hon. Member who had just sat down. It was no objection to the Bill that it was not founded, upon a more clearly defined principle. There could be no principle except on the one hand that of absolute observance of the day—which would be opposed to the practice of the country, to the provisions of existing Acts of Parliament, by which trading, to a certain extent, was legalized—or, on the other hand, that of total non-observance; and he ventured to think that the identification of Sunday with every other day in the week would give a shock to the moral and religious sense of the country. The only possible legislation on the subject, therefore, was some Bill resembling that introduced by the hon. Member, and if the measure really excited that deep feeling of indignation described by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. P. A. Taylor), was it not remarkable that no metropolitan Member had come forward to express it? The general feeling of the metropolis, judging from the numerous deputations he had received, was that reasonable facilities should be given for such traffic as was absolutely necessary for the accommodation of the poor, but that securities at the same time should exist for the decent observance of the Sabbath. With respect to the public meetings mentioned by the hon. Member, he thought the truth lay midway between the conflicting statements. An official Report, on which he could rely, informed him that in Hyde Park about 1,000 persons attended the meeting specially, and about 2,000 of the ordinary occupiers of the Park on Sunday afternoons stood by to listen from motives of curiosity. Such a meeting could not be said, in any sense, to represent the feelings of the working classes of the metropolis. At the same time, as a vote of the House at this period of the Session would hardly carry that weight which was desirable, it would be judicious, he thought, in his hon. Friend (Mr. J. G. Talbot) not to press the Motion.

said, he protested against the Bill, and would give the Bill his most strenuous opposition. In his opinion it was a class measure which would fall with unfair severity upon the poorer classes, and for that reason he would object to its passing.

said, he was surprised to hear from the Secretary of State for the Home Department that, in consequence of many Members being absent from the House, he would not regard a decision upon the Bill as registering the true opinion of the House of Commons. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Government had, only on the previous night, pressed forward a measure which was objected to by a large number 6f Gentlemen on both sides. The Bill had been pressed through by the determination of the Government, and he (Mr. Candlish) might under the circumstances say with equal truth that, having been forced through in that way in a thin House, it did not record the proper opinion of the House of Commons. He hoped that if the Government did not undertake to bring in a Bill upon the subject of Sunday trading, the hon. Gentleman opposite would take the opinion of the House upon his measure.

Motion made, and Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and negatived.