HC Deb 24 May 1811 vol 20 cc311-7
Sir John Newport

, in pursuance of notice, entered into a statement of the nature of the Duty upon Advertisements in Ireland, and a comparison thereof with that of England. He complained of its being unjust and contrary to the articles of the Union with that country, which ordained that Ireland should not be taxed in any one instance more than England. It was injurious to the liberty of the Press, because only those papers in the interest of government were favoured with government advertisements, and it was not productive, as there had been only the sum of 2,500l. raised, although it had been stated at 30,000l. The proprietors of newspapers in Ireland were al-lowed only one and a half per cent. upon payment of duty, while those in England were allowed 17 per cent. which afforded another instance of its being contrary to the act of union between the two countries. He concluded with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal so much of the Act of the 50th of the King as imposes an additional duty of two shillings for every ten lines which every advertisement, proclamation, order, or act of state, published in any Gazette, News-paper, Journal, or Daily Accounts shall contain, over and above the first ten lines, and as imposes a duty of one halfpenny on every hand-bill in Ireland."

Mr. Foster

said he was willing to place the Irish newspapers on the same footing as the English, if the right hon. baronet desired it; but he suspected, if so, that the right hon. baronet would not be a favourite with the Irish printers. He must say, that it was rather ridiculous in some gentlemen to talk of the duty on advertisements as being detrimental to the liberty of the press, when the two subjects were in nowise connected. The worthy baronet seemed to think that he had violated the act of union by laying on some duties in Ireland higher than in England. The worthy baronet when in office did the same thing. He may shake his head, but he did. "Yes, (said Mr. F.) you laid a tax upon jaunting cars. What's the reason you don't hold up your head and answer me? You laid a tax upon jaunting cars, and you laid a tax upon licences for public houses. I do not blame you, I did the same thing. (A laugh.) It is not fair, however, that you should accuse me of that as a fault, in the commission of which you must have thought yourself perfectly justifiable."

Mr. Sheridan.

I really, Sir, cannot help remarking the surprising change of temper which has so suddenly manifested itself in the right hon. gentleman. A few minutes ago, when the hon. gentleman below me (Mr. Bankes) said that Ireland was a burden upon England, he was instantly all on fire; and well he might. If Ireland is a burden upon England, where are you to seek the reason? Where but in the oppression, the injustice, and the tyranny of this country, which has so long enthralled Ireland; which has debased her for three centuries. I do not wonder, however, at the sudden good humour of the right hon. gentleman. I hear a few of the worthy gentlemen opposite have been amusing themselves this evening elsewhere. (A laugh.) Really I am very far from blaming them; indeed I am one of the last in the House who would desire to interrupt their diversion. The right hon. gentleman has said, if the Union is to be violated, it is best to repeal it at once; now, all that the right hon. gentleman has done with respect to the press, is a violation of the act of union; a violation of that clause which says, that no taxes are to be raised in Ireland higher than in England. It will not be the least excuse for him to say, that my right hon. friend beside me did so too. Even if it was the fact, it would not excuse his following a bad example: but my worthy friend did no such thing. He taxed jaunting cars—there are no jaunting cars in England, so the case does not hold there. He taxed licences, but licences are not articles of taxation, but police regulations; so, there also he is in error. In fact, he has not made out a single case where my right hon. friend has violated the act of union. (Mr. Foster and Mr. Perceval here appeared to converse.) I should be obliged to the right honourable gentleman for his attention, though perhaps, it would be more politic in me to let him continue his hints to his right hon. friend; indeed, I shall lose but little by his instilling a few of the arguments to-night into the ear of the right hon. gentleman beside him. I turn, however, to the hon. gent. below (Mr. Bankes) who has had the hardihood to say, this night, that Ireland cannot support her own government. It is not so. She can support her fair proportion; but she cannot, nor ought she, to be required to advance an overrated quota to the general defence of the empire. See what Ireland is doing for you—see her sacrificing her courage—her best blood in our defence; and can you in return basely reproach her with her poverty? You have no right to do so. If she is poor, she has become so in your support. Spare her, then, the mortification of hearing, that she owes that to your gratitude which she has a right to claim, not from your bounty but your justice. It has been said that the press cannot be hurt by raising the duty on advertisments. There are three ways of destroying the liberty of the press; one is by oppressive acts of parliament, another is by Ex-officio informations and the unconstitutional banishment of printers to distant gaols; and the third is by raising the price of cheap publications. This, and this is the way resorted to in Ireland, it is a mean, cowardly, and circuitous attempt. I have ever been a firm friend to the press, and while I live I shall continue so. I fear no corruption either in the state or in the government, while the press exists. Against venal lords, commons, or juries—against despotism of any kind, or in any shape—let me but array a free press, and the liberties of England will stand unshaken.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

justified the opinions of his right hon. friend with respect to the duty. The assimilation to the English duty would raise more money, and, as a matter of revenue, no doubt if the right hon. baronet was sincere, his right hon. friend would consent to repeal the present duty. He denied that it was a violation of the act of Union, as had been urged. Referring to what had been said by Mr. Bankes, he must declare that Ireland was no burden on England; so far from it, she was the great strength of the empire in assisting to combat the enemy, both by sea and land. The loan which had just been granted, was given for the advantage of the whole empire. To con-tribute to the wants of such a friend was serving this country. To say, that such a sum as four millions and a half taken from the Exchequer in aid of Ireland was entailing a burthen on England, or was detracting from that dignity and station in the empire which Ireland ought and did possess, was holding language which should not be held out. The loan was not an act of generosity and relief, but an act of liberality and justice, as well to England as to Ireland, for she was the main limb of the empire. The right hon. gentleman had talked of the liberty of the press, of informations filed by the Attorney General, of sending persons to distant prisons, of the unconstitutional caprice of the judges, &c.; but the right hon. gentleman should weigh well the use of words before he uttered them. He could not justly charge the judges with being actuated by caprice in passing the sentence of the law upon offenders. There never was a time when the administration of justice was so pure—when the judges were so uncorrupt. If the right hon. gentleman would reconsider his words, he would find that he had been too hasty, and that there was no foundation for any one of his charges.

Mr. Sheridan

in explanation said, that when punishment arose from caprice, the law could not justify it, and therefore he should take this opportunity of giving notice, that he would next session move for the repeal of that law which related to Ex-officio Informations.

Mr. Ponsonby

supported the motion. He thought the hon. gent. who had observed that Ireland was a burden to this country, rather deserved the thanks than the reprobation of the gentlemen of that country, as he had shewn the necessity of some remedy being adopted for the evil. It must be acknowledged that that country was in difficulty, which could not pay the interest of its own debt, but must accept 4½ millions for its service. In this instance, however, the right hon. gent. was imposing an unjust tax, as it was contrary to the spirit of the union; and although it might not tend to destroy the liberty of the press, yet it enabled government to shewn an unjust partiality, and to create dissatisfaction in that country, which they ought to use every exertion to conciliate.

Mr. Parnell

said that he could not admit the construction of the act of union that had been given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If those parts of the 7th article which pointed out the application of the revenues of Ireland, and the manner in which the proportions of contribution were to be provided were taken together, it appeared to him that no article could be taxed higher in Ireland than it was in England. Taxation for the purpose of providing for the proportion of contribution being necessarily by that article a proceeding following taxation for providing for the interest of the debt, which formed a separate charge, the true purport of the clause directing, that no article should be taxed higher in Ireland than in England for the purpose of providing the proportion, was to prevent any article from being so taxed for any purpose whatever. Whatever the tax on any article might be for the purpose of defraying the separate charge, no such addition could be made to it for defraying the joint charge as would make it altogether higher than it was in England. It was however no wonder that difficulties should arise in ascertaining the precise meaning of this article. It had now been the subject of discussion for some weeks before the Irish Finance Committee, and as yet the only opinion the Committee had been able to form of it was, that it was almost wholly unintelligible. But in regard to the question of issue, a noble member of that Committee, the framer of the article, had so lately as yesterday declared that Ireland was secured by it from the imposition of a higher duty on any article than that article was liable to in England. In respect to the duty on advertisements, he must contend that it was grievous to the editors of the public papers, and had a tendency to destroy the liberty of the press. He could consider it in no other light than that of an attack upon those editors who were the advocates of the people, and the opponents of the abuses of government. As to revenue, it was idle to look upon it as ever having been intended to be productive. It was a measure of the same class as many others of the Irish government to endeavour to stifle the freedom of public discussion. This he firmly believed to be the case when he considered the use which was made of the annual grant of 10,000l. nominally given for printing proclamations; and also the manner in which the express establishment between London and Dublin was converted into a source of profit to some editors, and of injury to others. The argument that the Irish press could bear equal burdens with the English was one at variance with every principle of taxation. In this country the public press had been long established, and it was supported by the immense wealth of the nation. In Ireland it was but just beginning to take the form of an established business, and had to depend on the support of a people only beginning to emerge from poverty. But in his opinion there was a still stronger reason why the press of Ireland should be protected instead of oppressed, and that was, her having lost her local legislature by the union. The public press had become the substitute of that legislature. Without it, the grievance of the people and the abuses of government could not be known; it was impossible that rights could be protected or wrongs redressed without the aid of this establishment; he should therefore, on this and on all occasions, resist to the utmost of his power every restriction that was endeavoured to be imposed upon it.

Colonel Barry

said he should vote against the motion.

Mr. Shaw

having already troubled the House on this subject, begged to assure them that at this late hour he would not trespass on their patience more than to answer one or two observations that fell from the right hon. gent. opposite. He was sorry the right hon. gent. (Mr. Foster) had so short a memory; for he appealed to every gentleman who was present at the opening of the Irish Budget last year, whether the right hon. gentleman did not distinctly say, that as the price of the Irish newspapers was just two thirds of the English, therefore no objection could be made to raising the tax on advertisements to the same ratio, that is, to two thirds the English tax. Was this the case or not? It had been said that if the tax was repealed another must be substituted in its place. This was a very erroneous apprehension, because, as it was stated in the petition which he had the honour to present from the proprietors of Irish newspapers, the tax was as unproductive as it was oppressive. Therefore, placing it upon its former footing would occasion no defalcation of revenue. It had been most whimsically remarked by the right hon. gentleman, that the tax being unproductive was occasioned by the obstinacy of the proprietors of the news-papers who set themselves against it. But could it be for a moment supposed that they would be such enemies to their own interests as to refuse the insertion of advertisements, upon which their profits al-most entirely depended?—Mr. Shaw made use of several other arguments to demon-strate the injustice and the impolicy of the tax, and contended, that it ought not, at all events, in any case to exceed two-thirds of the duty paid in England.

After a few words from sir John New-port, in reply, the House divided, when there appeared

Against the motion 51
For it 21
Majority —30