HC Deb 07 June 1815 vol 31 cc660-4

The House having resolved itself into a Committee of Ways and Means,

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

rose to propose the schedule of Stamp-duties of which he had given notice. He observed, that the subjects on which the additional Stamp-duties were to be imposed, were law duties and newspapers. The first of these subjects, the taxation of law proceedings, was one on which too much attention could not be bestowed. He had submitted the present schedule to several very experienced persons in the profession of the law; and since the schedule had been before produced, there were many alterations made in it which would render it less objectionable. One alteration was, that the increased duties were not made progressive on the size of the instrument stamped, but that a certain increase of duty on each proceeding should take place. An objection also had been started against the schedule, which was, that the increase of the duties would have an unequal effect upon the proceedings in small courts. This also had been remedied by a diminished scale of duties applied to the small courts. Though the taxes on law proceedings were on general grounds objectionable, yet when it was considered how small a proportion of the expenses in a law-suit consisted of law duties, the objections would not appear so great as at first might be imagined. In a suit in which the solicitor's bill was 40l., the amount of the old law duties, together with the new, was 40s. In another, in which the expense was 35l., the Stamp-duties were 3l. There was not, therefore, the same objection to these duties which at first sight seemed to attach to them.—As to the duties on newspapers, the first idea which he had was to lay an additional tax of 1d. on each paper; but as it was represented that this tax would have the most disadvantageous effect upon the circulation of the papers, he had imagined the increase of the duty on advertisements in proportion to their length; but though this seemed a fair proposition, it was strongly objected to by the editors of the newspapers, and an additional Stamp-duty of one halfpenny on each paper, and 6d. on each advertisement was preferred by the majority of the persons occupied in this line. To protect the public from an increase of the price of the papers beyond the amount of the tax, an additional discount would be allowed to those who only increased the price of their paper from sixpence-halfpenny to seven-pence, which discount would not be allowed to those who increased the price to a greater sum. Although the proprietors of the London papers were not equally willing to coincide in the arrangement which he had made, he was convinced that no duty would be more cheerfully paid by the public than an increase of one halfpenny on the price of a newspaper. The sale of these publications depending almost wholly on the situation of public affairs, and as at the present time, and probably for some years to come, a laudable curiosity would be directed to the events which were passing, and which exceeded in importance any which for ages before had occurred, the additional price of one halfpenny on the publications through which the public derived their information would not be grudged by the purchasers.

Sir J. Newport

felt a radical objection to the tax upon newspapers; it was of the utmost importance to the public that this channel of general information should be as free as possible to the community at large; and as the proposition of the right hon. gentleman was likely to limit that circulation, he thought it highly objectionable. As to the consolation which the right hon. gentleman gave the public, that the same melancholy inducement for political intelligence was still likely to be protracted, so far from thinking this a proper ground of support to a measure like the present, he thought it the very reason why a different policy ought to be pursued; because, at such times of general pressure to the community, every facility of instruction ought to be freely admitted. Because great calamity was likely to open upon the world, were the people to be driven to endure the still greater weight of additional taxation? The reverse was surely the true view of the subject. Nothing could be more unfair, when the political situation of the country rendered it alive to passing events, than that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should come forward and say—"We will make you pay for intelligence, now that we see your necessities compel you, from the very operation of their pressure, to be more anxious for its reception." Now, he (sir John Newport) would contend that, so far from this position being the correct one, the direct contrary was the fact, and that public curiosity had a right to be with more facility indulged, when the state of the country afforded sufficient reason for its excitement. In proportion to the magnitude of the concerns of Great Britain, the circulation of her newspapers appeared smaller than those of other countries. Look to America, for instance, and see how far more extended was their circulation; and let them consider the consequences of drying up those sources of cheap and general information. He was not aware that the mode by which the right hon. gentleman sought to guard the public against ultimately paying more than the additional halfpenny on each paper would be at all effectual, or that it would remove his objections to the tax. It would, in the end, he was sure, prove as unproductive as all such expedients of gratuitous taxation had ever been found. Besides, the right hon. gentleman could not be ignorant that if the press were thus called into action against the pressure of a measure like the present, the effect would be, that although it would be unlikely great public measures would be in future exposed to misrepresentation, yet they would be open to a sort of high colouring, perhaps not exactly of that kind which it would suit; the right hon. gentleman to encounter. On the whole, it was one of the last taxes which the right hon. gentleman ought under any circumstances to have proposed.

Sir M. W. Ridley

said, he did not object to the lax on newspapers on account of the effect it would have upon the proprietors; but because it would diminish the circulation of information, he should oppose that part of the Resolution. As to the addition of sixpence on advertisements, he did not object to it. He understood the charge for the insertion of advertisements in the London papers was very great, and the delay considerable; for though a laudable practice existed at the offices of inserting advertisements by rotation, yet a practice as much to be reprobated existed, that advertisements were inserted out of their rotation on the payment of an additional sum. At the last general election, when he had had occasion to advertise a circular to the freemen of the town which he represented, resident in London, he had selected four London papers for that purpose, and was surprised to find the expense for the insersion of the advertisement twice in four papers. He was informed, on examining the accounts, that it was the custom to charge twice as much for advertisements at the time of a general election; a rule which did not exist, he believed, with the country papers. It was also remarkable, that there was a difference in these charges. The papers were two evening and two morning papers—the Morning Chronicle, the Morning Post, the Globe, and the Courier; in the Morning Chronicle he was charged 10 guineas, in the Morning Post 12 guineas, in the Globe 12 guineas, and in She Courier 16 guineas. This variety seemed singular to him, and it was not the less singular that those papers who adhered to the principles of the Chancellor of the Exchequer charged most for their advertisements. As the duty bore so small a proportion to the charge on advertisements, he should not oppose it.

Sir C. Monck

opposed the tax on newspapers, and thought there could not be a time more ill chosen to deny the public information on the state of public events in which they were so deeply interested.

The Resolution imposing 3s. 6d. on every advertisement was agreed to; the House resumed, and the Report was ordered to be received to-morrow.