HC Deb 16 May 1811 vol 20 cc181-95
Mr. Shaw

rose and spoke to the following effect: Sir; In pursuance of a notice I gave some days ago, I beg to call the attention of the House to the Petition of the Proprietors of Newspapers in Ireland. [See vol. 19, p. 1012.] The object of that Petition is to solicit the repeal of the additional duty upon Advertisements laid upon them in the course of the last session; and I particularly request the attention of the right hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Foster) and the indulgence of the House, while I state a few but strong facts upon which the Petitioners claim is founded. The tax complained of went at once to affect all Advertisements in proportion to their extent, and the result of a year's experience has proved beyond contradiction, that this tax is not only oppressive to the Pe- titioners, but unproductive to the state, and therefore the complaints urged against it resolve themselves into these two strong objections.—The additional duty commenced the 16th of July last, and the produce of the tax on Newspapers for three months previous to the laying on of the duty was increased to 4,159l. 15s. and the produce of it for three months subsequent to the increase, was 4,930l. being an apparent increase of 770l. but that increase is accounted for by the subsequent establishment of two new daily papers, and a weekly paper, and the amount of the duty upon these papers was 1,000l. 16s. 1d.; if therefore this sum paid by the newly established papers be deducted, it will leave only a sum of 3,930l.; and this is a convincing proof the tax has been unproductive, as it appears that for three months before the duty was doubled, the sum paid was absolutely more by about 130l. than it was for the three months after the increase had taken place, deducting the amount paid by the newly set up papers I have already mentioned.

Besides this, Mr. Speaker, there is no inconsiderable amount to be deducted for duty on government Proclamations, the charge upon which produces no additional duty to the revenue, and it was from these chiefly that the duty on the newspapers was derived. With regard to the oppression of the tax, the right hon. gent. stated when he introduced the measure, that his object was to make the duty upon advertisements in Ireland amount to two-thirds of the duty in England; but how much more oppressive it has been there than such a ratio would warrant must be evident, when I stale that for every advertisement exceeding ten lines, the Irish duty exceeds the English in a progressive increase, so that the Irish law imposes a duty upon advertisements of 300 lines in a ratio of 20 to to what is paid in this country. I am not stating, the House will bear in mind, an injury that may occur; but what actually takes place frequently. As an instance, I hold in my hand an Irish newspaper, containing an advertisement for the relief of the Portuguese, the duty upon which was 2l. 14s. Now the same advertisement in an English paper, would be subject to 3s.; therefore I call upon the right hon. gent. if he can do it, to reconcile those facts with the ratio which he distinctly stated to the House when he proposed this tax.

It will be unnecessary for me to detail to the House the injuries consequently resulting to the Irish press, for I may appeal to any of the gentlemen of Ireland here, who are in the habit of reading the Irish papers, whether since the tax has been enforced, the advertising columns have not greatly diminished. Indeed, this tax far exceeds the means of ordinary advertisers, and in Ireland they have become less by one-half than they were before it was imposed. It is also to be observed, that the number of readers of advertisements must be proportionably diminished, and that a diminution of the circulation of newspapers is the inevitable consequence, so that the revenue is decreased more than even what doubling the duty was estimated to produce. Besides this, we are to keep in mind that the Irish press labours under hardships peculiar to itself, and also that it is deprived of many of the advantages the English press enjoys; to name one, for instance, the Irish proprietor is allowed a discount of but one and a half per cent, and the allowance in this country is 17 per cent.

Such, Sir, are the observations I have thought it my duty to make upon this subject; they are founded upon facts, and every person who wishes well to Ireland, must desire that the blessings of an enlightened press should be enjoyed there, and no press can be enlightened or beneficial to the country that is not free. The tax, if persisted in, will make the honourable labours of men of talents, unproductive or ruinous to themselves, and such prints only can exist who look not to the public favour for support, but who receive for their remuneration the wages of corruption. I move you, therefore, That the Petition, with the act of the last session, be referred to a Committee of the whole House.

Mr. Foster.

Sir; the hon. gent. over the way says, that this an oppressive tax, and to prove it, he adds, that two newspapers have been set up in Ireland. He states, that the duty would have fallen very considerably short, if 1,000l. had not been added by two newspapers, which were not in contemplation at the time of raising the duty. What is to be inferred? That if the papers had fallen off and been injured, there would not have been two papers voluntarily set up. But the fact is this; last session I was misunderstood and misrepresented, not voluntarily, but I never said, that I meant to impose two thirds of the duty in. Eng- land on Ireland, but that I thought the mode of fixing the prices were better there than here. The printers charge so much for every ten lines, and the framers of the tax thought that the duty should be paid in the same way for every ten lines; that is, the proprietor and the government should consider every additional ten lines as a new advertisement. I then said, and the situation of Ireland has since unhappily proved it to be necessary, that I should endeavour to look at those taxes, which, by experience, existing in England were found least injurious, and I looked to the raising of such stamp duties as I thought Ireland could bear. I saw then more considerable difficulties than this, because I could not conceive then nor can I see it now, how the price of advertisements can hurt the newspapers. It appears that not only the advertisements are given in the papers, but by the produce of the tax since its commencement, that it is operative.

I will just state, what would have been the effect if I had pursued the English system. It is said, that for one advertisement 2l. 14s. 6d. is paid in Ireland, which in England would be only 3s. Why? because in England they pay for only one advertisement though it be more than ten lines. What would be the consequence? If I had followed the English duty—[Mr. Shaw said something across the table,] If the hon. gent. has a mind to have the English duty, let him propose it. I will state to him that the present duty in Ireland is, what it would amount to as it is collected in England, and what it would have amounted to had it not been increased. The old duty in 1809, upon 94,000 single advertisements of ten lines was 47,000l. I proposed raising the duty to 2s. which amounted to 9,491l. If I had adopted the English mode of paying 3s. for each, it would have been 14,200l.; what then is the difference between the two modes? It is this, that we have endeavoured to make the single advertisements cheap, and to throw the great weight of the tax upon long advertisements, thinking that the short advertisements came from persons in a lower rank in life than those who sent the long advertisements; the long ones generally relating to property which is able to pay a higher duty. It was the same with the stamp duties—that which now was only 7,400l. by the British duty might be made 16,900l. if the hon. gent. wishes his constituents should be put on the same footing as the newspapers in London, I can certainly have no objection to it. It is for him to do it if he pleases.

Mr. Parnell

said, that he had been applied to by several printers in Dublin to propose a repeal of the stamp duties on hand bills. There was an objection to this duty as well as to the duties on advertisements, which he conceived could not be got over; they were directly contrary to the express enactment of the 7th article of the Union, which provided, that no article in Ireland should be made subject to a higher duty than the same article was subject to in England. In this country there was no duty on hand bills, and on advertisements the duty never could exceed 3s. on each advertisement; whereas in Ireland, if it consisted of more than ten lines, it was much higher than this sum.—The duties, therefore, imposed in the last session ought never to be allowed. It was owing to the manner in which the act was hurried through the House, that no notice was taken of this defect in it; he now trusted that it would be looked into, and its regulations made at least consistent with the Act of Union.

Mr. Foster.

—The hon. gent. mentions now, that the tax on hand-bills is to be taken into consideration with the other subject, if I understand the object of his motion. I can only say, that the tax on hand bills was recommended to me by one of the gentlemen proprietors of newspapers in Dublin, who said that hand-bills ought to have a reasonable tax laid upon them, so that they should not have the advantage, and draw the advertisements from the newspapers. I acceded to the wish, and he proposed a penny on hand-bills, which I thought too much, and said it ought to be only one halfpenny. All I say, is, that much injury will indeed be done, if the English mode is adopted, but if the hon. gent. likes it, he can if he wishes have it adopted.

Sir John Newport.

I conceive, Sir, that within the meaning of the Act of Union, this new tax, as it regards advertisements exceeding ten lines, is in direct violation of the law; because it is an additional duty, although it is declared, that no article in Ireland shall be made liable to any new or additional duty, rendering the whole amount of which would be thereafter payable, exceeding the amount of the duty payable in England on the like articles. Advertisements of 20 lines pay more in Ireland than in England, and if this is not directly against the letter and spirit of the act, I cannot see what is. [Here the right hon. gent. read a part of the act.]—Now, Sir, I do not see haw, in regulating the duty, that the right hon. gent. has a right to do it, because it is an absolute violation of the act. When too, the Petitioners make any request on the subject, they are told then you must pay the whole duty that is paid in England. Would it be fair to call on any body of men, under the local circumstances of the country and in their peculiar branch of business, and to say to them, you must either submit to the grievance I have inflicted upon you, or you must be burdened with another grievance. There are many articles on which the poverty of Ireland cannot admit the same tax. Would it be right to say to the Petitioners, "true it is, you complain of the grievances of a tax and you shall have a modification of it; but on these terms, that you shall receive a greater burden, and pay taxes the same as in England." I am perfectly confident, that any augmentation of the duty on advertisements will have no beneficial effect in the revenue, and only serve to put down the press of Ireland.

With regard to what has been said of newspapers being set up, which has been already made use of by the other side; it should be remembered, that a newspaper may be so ingeniously managed as to secure to itself all the government proclamations and advertisement of public boards, where the government only pays with one hand and receives with the other. Indeed, newspapers may be set up merely with a view to give encouragement to the idea that the tax will not be injurious to the press, but I should be glad to see how much of that sum of 10,000l. was actually and bona fide taken out of the public purse; that is, the government paying with one hand into the other, from one pocket into another. That, I think, would be the fair criterion of judging in what proportion the tax had been productive.

Another thing has been stated, and it is that the smaller advertisements are peculiarly the produce of the poor; but there is one description of advertisements which feels the effect of this tax with great severity from its nature, such as sales of estates and decrees of courts: indeed every thing relating to judicial pro- ceedings, where the party is often the poorest of the poor, and where there is an absolute necessity that it should be advertised at a greater length than is common, I do think, therefore, unless there be a very great object with the revenue, in cases like this the House ought not to bear heavily upon the Press; sure I am—that every thing which tends to diminish the freedom of the Press does it most serious injury, because I do believe that a free discussion of topics is a public concern, and in its maintainance the public has a very serious interest.

The right hon. gent. says, that the newspapers can pay the tax, because it falls upon particular individuals who can pay. I say that fewer persons will advertise if it be so heavy as to make it an object. We know the fact to be so, and if you lay on a duty so great that persons can communicate more cheaply and conveniently by written notices, will it not most materially affect the editors of newspapers, and induce them even to discontinue their concern. With respect to hand-bills, the duty was intended to protect the printers of newspapers. I believe it will be manifest when the matter comes to be looked into, how much the duty has produced; it will be manifest, that it has not answered any object, but to throw out of employment those concerned in this branch of trade; and I would beg leave to say, that the House is peculiarly bound to guard the press of Ireland against any act of the united parliament; and why? Because at the act of union the most material sacrifices were made by the printing body—the whole book trade of Ireland sacrificed to the measure.

Mr. P. Moore.—

Sir, I cannot help thinking that it would be a great advantage if the press of Ireland were to be supported in the same way as in this country, and the greater the encouragement that is held out for its multiplication, the greater will be the ultimate benefit to be derived from it.—When the right hon. gent. on the other side talks of placing the English and Irish duties on the same footing, he should remember that the duties in this country have grown with the growth of the press, and they cannot be parted with now; and in Ireland in proportion to the productiveness of the revenue, will be the strength which the nation will obtain. I have nothing more to say on the subject at present, but to remark once for all, that the duty as levied now on the number, of lines in each advertisement, has tended more to the restriction of the liberty of the press than to its encouragement; and I am persuaded that if the duties are placed as they are in England, it will afford encouragement to the press, which shall enable the press of Ireland to rival the growth of the revenue of the press of England. Regarding the liberty of the press as the greatest safeguard and strength of the nation, and as I have before taken occasion to state, as that which has given to us all that is valuable, which has secured to the constitution that firmness, and to the throne that brilliancy and splendour which I hope never to see shaken or tarnished: I have no hesitation in thinking, from the advantages we have seen resulting from the press throughout the world, that in Ireland also it would be useful, and would secure it from the attacks of corruption and tyranny. What was the situation of France with regard to the liberty of the press at the time of the revolution? At that period, no newspapers had circulation 20 miles out of Paris; and, if there had been a communication between the different loyalists, and a line of intelligence kept up for them to act together, it is impossible that it should have made any comparative progress; but, for want of it, they all hastened to this country, because they could not understand what was going on. I hope that the committee will be allowed to enter into this business, fully convinced, that benefits will arise from it to both countries; and I declare, that so long as I shall continue to have a seat in this House, or to have a residence on the face of the earth, the liberty of the press, and every thing connected with it, shall receive my strenuous support.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said,—Sir, I feel it necessary to say only a few words on this subject, which is a sort of charge on my right hon. friend. The tax is laid upon advertisements, and the hon. gent. who brought the matter forward, tells the House that there is a certain description of persons who are peculiarly fond of reading advertisements, and therefore he concludes, that as the advertisements are lessened, the demand for the papers will be also diminished. What description of persons those are, who are advertisement readers, or who would be deterred from purchasing the papers, because there are not quite so many, it is difficult to understand; it is not easy to find out what sort of taste prevails among those who are so peculiarly fond of reading advertisements, and those long ones too. Then we are told, that it will be a restraint on the liberty of the press; bat I would really advise gentlemen to reflect a little, before they make this charge. Now, I beg leave to ask, is it a fact that in consequence of this tax any one newspaper has been obliged to be put down? Is there an allegation that any one person has been unable to carry on the trade on account of the diminution of advertisements or the advertisement readers? We have not had an allegation of the kind. There are as many papers now as before for any thing we have heard, and we have been told that there are two more that have grown up, and the inference therefore is that there is a description of persons who do not like advertisements. I confess I should be among that description of readers who like to have all the information but rather more compressed, and if I had a choice I should indulge rather in advertisements of a short composition than where there was a good deal of letter-press of another kind. But if people wish to see the liberty of the press, surely they will find more food to satisfy their appetite in the other part than in the advertisements, and therefore, if it were put in an extravagant way it may be said to be rather an encouragement to liberty. There is no ground for any such exaggerated statement that we have entered into a conspiracy against the press in Ireland, and in order to carry this malicious design into execution we had laid a duty on all long advertisements, and that the Irish government had exercised their wits and ingenuity to keep it out of sight by setting up two new papers at much expence, in order to shew that the liberty of the press was not affected. These are the grave grounds stated to induce us to believe that the tax ought not to continue. If the number of newspapers continued, it would be a strong ground to shew that the liberty of the press has not been injured, but any gentleman who has had an opportunity of seeing the contents of the newspapers, will say that there never was a period at which it can be said that the liberty of the press was less injured or confined than under this tax; for I think, for my part, that I never read a greater degree of warmth or a larger number of paragraphs, letters, or statements which indicated a degree of liberty in the papers than what have been penned on this very tax, which is the subject of so much animated discussion, by far more like the sentiments of liberty than I ever read in the longest advertisements I ever saw. It does appear to me that people continue to publish advertisements for their own, and the public concerns, with very material advantage.

Certainly I think the question was very fairly put across the House, that my right hon. friend was willing, if the parties so pleased, to adopt the English mode of taxing advertisements. It might be a very fair subject for consideration in the House; we should have no difficulty in adopting that rate, and, as I understand, it would rather be preferred. There were in the year 1809, 14,000 advertisements, under ten lines, and they produced 4,745l. and the whole tax on all the other large advertisements did not produce so much as those under ten lines; therefore it may be a matter worth consideration, if it would be right to make that tax any longer a subject of complaint, for it appears to be a tax which would fall much lighter upon them, than that which applied to newspapers in England. On the whole, therefore, I think, that if any alteration were to be made, it would be. the worse for the newspapers—and they ought to take care, that in making their complaints, they do not shew that they are not sufficiently taxed, so as to draw upon them additional burdens.

Mr. Ponsonby.

If I were to advise the proprietors of newspapers in Ireland, I should recommend them to abide by the tax as it is, rather than to seek it to be imposed as in England, for I believe they pay less at present, and lose less in their profits, than if they were to pay the tax paid by the proprietors of English newspapers. They will find, that the right hon. gentleman opposite has not made a proposal to night extremely beneficial to them, if he were to change the subsisting tax in Ireland for the subsisting tax in England. They say, if you do not like the tax as it is, how shall we give you help; and the only answer they make, is an addition to what you complain of. Now, the contribution in England is 15 parts out of 17; the whole contribution of Ireland to be raised by a single tax, by the act of Union alone, would amount to only two parts out of 17. It is an odd standard, to take off the ability of Ireland, to say, that England pays the same tax; but the act of Union has an express provision on the subject, which says, that no article shall be taxed more in Ireland than in England. Perhaps if these articles had been considered worth a little more attention than they received, they might have admitted of considerable improvement; some might; not have been inserted, or have subsisted at this moment. But does the right hon. gent. think it reasonable that the, newspaper proprietors in Ireland should be subject to the additional tax on long advertisements? Here it is only 3s. on every advertisement. Take the comparative calculation in the two countries, and is there any man who will stay, that it is a fair rate of taxation? I think where an English advertisement pays 3s. an Irish one should pay only 2s. at most, and I wish the wealth of Ireland, as compared with England, could be considered as 2 to 3. I am sure it falls very short of it indeed; and when you come, to the tax, it is but reasonable that you should consider the wealth of the two countries.—As to the tax destroying the liberty of the press, for one I have not the least idea that it will produce that effect, but I think it is a very unreasonable tax, and I hope that the right hon. gent. will see something just in the complaints of the petitioners, and that he will not refuse to have the matter examined by a Committee. I see considerable justice in some things that have fallen from the other side, though I do not give way to any of the exaggerated statements: but what I wish is, that the tax may be fixed in some way or other so as to produce a less reduction of the profits of the proprietors.

Mr. Hutchinson.

—I am sure the House is very much indebted to the right hon. gent. opposite, for his amusing comments, but I do not think that they will have any great weight with the House, though I at the same time give him great credit for turning this most serious subject into ridicule and humour. But the advertising readers are not so much to be despised, because, if he examined, he would see how much the revenue is increased by the advertisements, and he would be aware how great a defalcation of that revenue would take place, if the advertisement readers were to be scoffed and laughed out of their reading. But the reason why my hon. friend adverted to it was this, that no paper either in this country or in Ireland can support itself but through the medium of advertisements. I cannot for a moment doubt but that the right hon. gent. does know it; the public prints are injured by destroying that in which the public are interested. They are injured by detailing the debates in parliament, because they are obliged to leave out their advertisements.—Now, the fact of the two additional newspapers in Dublin, which the right hon. gent. applied to his own purpose, goes directly the other way; for why did the hon. member for Dublin make use of it in argument? He said, that in a prior period of three months, the whole amount of duty amounted to 4109l.; and a subsequent period it was 4,930l.; but that in the latter period, there were two additional papers set up—and in the conclusion it appears, that these two additional papers paid 1,000l. and deducting that from the duty of the period before, there will be a defalcation of duty, instead of an increase, of nearly 300l. If we could agree in this House as to our facts, there would be less debating, and business would be done more for the public benefit. If the fact be true, that that which in England costs 3s. in Ireland costs nearly 3l. the fact is, I submit, sufficient; it is a volume of argument and reasoning to induce the House to accede to the motion, and it has not yet been denied. But I want to know, why should the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or any member, say, we will allow advertisements of a certain length. They have none; and the moment you confine the circulation, you stop the benefit to the advertiser, and the proprietor will not find it worth his while to carry it on, when he receives no advertisements.—In the first place, a great number of advertisements consist of decrees, which are of length, and the proprietor will lose these, and he will feel that the profit of his paper is lessened, because it does not afford the same information that it did before; then the paper becomes less saleable, and thereby this tax is a tax upon his property. But, Sir, I am, in common with all the friends round me who support this motion, a sincere and zealous friend to the Press, but particularly to the Irish Press. I am sure it cannot be too much encouraged, and he is the sincerest friend of the empire, who encourages all species of investigation in Ireland, through the medium of the Press.—If there be any part of the kingdom, where there should be less restraint than in another, it is in Ireland; because, however, we may strive, we cannot con- ceal from ourselves that there is much amelioration and lteration necessary, before we can bring it to that happy state, which every Irishman, every Englishman, I may say, would desire; and gentlemen here must get more information on the subject, and in no way can they get. so well or effectually as through the public press. In no place is the liberty of the press so necessary as there.

Mr. Grattan.

—I do not think that the scale of taxation in this case is fair: it doubles every ten lines. Now, that is no principle of taxation, it may subject our Press to much heavier burthens, to a much greater weight, and ought not to be adopted. The right hon. gent. will be pleased to recollect that if what he said was true, that the tax dots not go directly to affect the liberty of the press, but it may affect the circulation of the press, and if you affect the circulation you affect the liberty of the press in this way; that few men will undertake to conduct newspapers unless they are under the protection of other men of influence and weight, so as to convert the press at any time to the purpose of any minister. I beg leave to observe, that I think the right hon. gent. was perfectly disinterested in proposing this tax. He suggested a system of taxation to the amount of 300,000l., and it must be allowed that they are not very popular, and it is impossible that that, or any new system of taxation, should be, very popular. The right hon. gent. thought, however, that they would be very proper taxes to be introduced and discussed in the public papers: so he taxes the press so as to bring the press into a discussion with him, and on that occasion, certainly, he was not much spared. It is true he has been unsuccessful in his taxes, and as a politician, I cannot say that he has evinced much wisdom. The mode I would recommend would be, that the House should go into a Committee upon it.

Mr. Foster

said, that he had no intention of attacking the liberty of the press

Mr. Shaw.

I do not feel it necessary to trouble the House for more than a few minutes, to reply to the observations which have been made in opposition to the motion which I had the honour of submitting to their consideration; and first, I must allude to the argument touched upon by the right hon. gent. opposite (Mr. Foster), that because a newspaper has been set up in Dublin since the tax was imposed, that therefore it cannot be injurious. But that right hon. gent. knows very well that the paper alluded to was set up by the Castle, and belongs to government, and who will, no doubt, so distribute their favours, that it will receive more out of the taxes than it will ever contribute to them. It is notorious that this paper has been sent gratis throughout the country, and the advertisements it contains are government Proclamations or Decrees, signed "W. W. Pole," therefore no argument can be drawn from a paper of such a description, which ought to affect the legitimate press of Ireland. The right hon. gent. in his usual manner proposes to redress the grievance of the Petitioners—how? Why, by increasing their burthens; but I cannot believe him serious; he knows perfectly well that Ireland cannot bear equal taxation with this country; and therefore his proposition looks like mockery. The other right hon. gent., for the motion has only been opposed by the two Chancellors, has been pleased to treat the subject with ridicule; he laughs at the idea that newspapers are indebted for any part of their circulation to their advertisements; he seems to think in fact that no person reads them, but if the fact be that they are such unnoticed kind of things, why do advertisers go to the expence of paying for them? and why does the right hon. gent. tax them? But in order to shew this right hon. gent. how perfectly he is mistaken upon the point, I have only to tell him, that there is a paper published in Dublin called the Day Note, which, contains nothing but advertisements, and therefore, cannot be bought for its news; and yet has a considerable circulation. Sir, the case of the petitioners is well deserving the attention of the House—they have a formidable rivalship to contend with in the great circulation which English newspapers have obtained in Ireland, and therefore, the profits arising from advertisements must be a greater object to them than it is to the newspapers in this country, whose circulation is so immense, extending throughout the whole of the British dominions in various parts of the world. I have now only to add, that upon one point I have not been answered at all. I did assert, that the produce, of this tax was less since than it was before it was doubled; and I was prepared to prove it from the best information I could procure, and which I believe to be correct. Should the House go into a Committee, it will be proved to their satisfaction. Upon so just an occasion, I must certainly press the question.

The House then divided, when the numbers were—For the motion 17; Against it 29; Majority 12.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, J. O'Hara, Colonel
Adam, W. Palmer, Colonel
Grattan, Henry Ponsonby, rt. hon. G.
Horner, F. Smith, W.
Hutchinson, C. H. Tracy, H.
La Touche, Colonel Western, C.
Martin, Henry Wrottesley, Sir H.
Montgomery, Sir H. Tellers:
Moore, P. Shaw, R.
Newport, Sir John Parnell, H.