HC Deb 20 December 1819 vol 41 cc1315-9
Mr. J. Smith

presented a petition from a great number of the booksellers and publishers of London, on the subject of the new duties proposed to be raised on works of a particular size and description, to which he begged to call the particular attention of the House.ߞThe petitioners stated, that they were in the constant habit of reprinting and publishing certain standard works in numbers, some of them only containing a sheet and a half, and having a most extensive circulation throughout the country, which, they feared, would from their size come under the operation of the bill before the House, if it was carried in its present form. He apprehended it was not the intention of ministers to pass any measure which would injure this trade; for he maintained that there was no trade in the country which contributed more to the improvement of the religious and moral habits and character of the people than this. They published works upon agriculture, commerce, history, divinity, astronomy, &c. in a cheaper manner by which means these works came into the hands of those who would not be able to procure them, if printed together in large volumes; for it was a Common practice for three or four in a family to join in subscribing for them in those: small and cheap numbers. This was in itself a most important and valuable circumstance for the great body of the people, whose means did not allow them to buy such works altogether. But there was another circumstance to which he wished to call the attention of gentlemen opposite as he was sure it would be gratifying to them. It was thisߞthat they published no work which had not a moral or religious tendency. No plan, he conceived, could be devised, better calculated to instil moral and industrious principles into the minds of the middle and lower classes, than this, of giving them the opportunity of purchasing such works on their own terms. They published no works of political matters, nor on the passing occurrences of the day; and they required from those who circulated their works that they should not sell political tracts or pamphlets, which bond they most rigidly enforced. The petitioners further stated, and he could prove at the bar if necessary, that there was not less than 1,000,000l. of capital employed in this manner, which would in a great degree be rendered use less if the present bill passed. He contended, that if the House consented to let the bill pass in its present form, it would destroy the little reading in the country, inasmuch as it would cut off so fertile a source of the means of carrying it on; and he was sure that if it passed, it would be found necessary to repeal part of it in the next session.

The petition was then brought up and read, setting forth,

"That the petitioners have observed with great alarm the provisions of a bill now under the consideration of the House, intituled, "A bill to make certain publications subject to the duties of stamps upon newspapers, and to restrain the abuses arising from the publication of blasphemous and seditious libels;" and that the petitioners do now, and for many years past have respectively carried on the trade of booksellers and publishers in the city of London and the vicinity thereof, and they have respectively very large capitals embarked in their respective trades, and a very considerable stock on hand of the value of very many thousand pounds each, and they apprehend and believe that such capital, and the value of such stock, if not totally destroyed, will be materially diminished by the provisions of the said bill, if the same should be passed into a law; and that the works published by the petitioners consist of standard works re-printed, and many of them stereotyped, at an enormous expense, and of new works upon history, divinity, the arts, sciences, and general literature, with a very large number of expensive copper-plate engravings belonging thereto; and that the same are divided into small parts or numbers, which are published separately, and not at stated periods, but at uncertain intervals, within the month, and four or five of such parts or numbers are usually published within that time; and that the works so published by the petitioners would not, by reason of their price, find purchasers if the same were published entire, or in any form or manner less adapted for general circulation than that used by the petitioners; and that none of such works, nor any works which now are or ever have been published by the petitioners are upon any subject of temporary politics, but all such works are of permanent interest, and are likely to be re-printed, and to continue on sale many years; and that each of such numbers contains generally one sheet and a half of paper (but in some cases, when accompanied with illustrative engravings, less than that quantity), and is stitched, and has a cover, either blank or printed, and in most cases an engraving or other plate in one of every two, three, or four numbers, and each number is sold at a price not less than six-pence; and that such works are divided and made up into numbers as they sell, or at the time of the demand for them, and not at any certain time, and in some cases years elapse before the entire impression is made up or sold; and that it would be impossible to print separate covers with the dates of publication without great additional expense, which would occasion an immense loss to the petitioners, and would materially injure, and probably altogether destroy their trade; and that it would also be impossible to print the price at which such numbers are to be sold, inasmuch as the same are circulated not only in Great Britain, but in Ireland and America, and the price thereof necessarily differs as well in amount as in the denomination of money, according to the place of sale; and that no work so published by the petitioners is contained in less than twelve such numbers, and several of them extend to two hundred numbers and upwards; and that the whole of each work (except cyclopædias and books of reference) is upon one subject, and not upon many different subjects; and that the allowance in price made by the petitioners to the distributers or retailers of such works does always exceed twenty per cent, and the same varies according as the mode of selling or retailing the same is more or less expensive, and from other considerations; and that the respective establishments of the petitioners give employment to many thousand persons as workmen and as circulators who have no other means of employ, and that the capital and trade of the petitioners would not only be destroyed by the said bill, if passed into a law, but the persons aforesaid would be thrown wholly out of employ, and would be redued to utter distress and ruin; and, that neither the petitioners, nor any of their workmen or distributers, nor any person by any means connected with their respective establishments, are, or ever have been engaged in the publication of any cheap or other works upon temporary politics or recent events; but in most instances the petitioners have required security by bond from the respective persons engaged by them not to circulate or sell any such political works, and every person detected or known to be engaged in the circulation or sale thereof has been invariably and immediately dismissed from the employment of the petitioners; and that most of the works published by the petitioners are of a directly religious and moral nature, and every one of them is of a moral tendency; and the petitioners respectfully state, that no plan is better calculated, or has been more effectual in the encouragement of regular habits, and in the discouragement of disaffection and irreligion among the poorer classes, than the system adopted by the petitioners, of supplying them upon their own demand, and at intervals suited to their own convenience, with religious and moral instruction; and that the petitioners have no doubt that capital to the amount of 1,000,000l. at least would be destroyed by the said bill, if passed into a law; they therefore humbly pray, That the said bill may not pass into a law, or that provision may be thereby made for the protection of the petitioners' trade and interest, and that they may be heard, by their counsel, agents, and witnesses, in relation to the matters aforesaid."

Petitions against the bill were also presented from the booksellers and publishers of Liverpool, Birmingham and Bristol.