§ Mr. P. Thomson
presented a Petition from a number of Newspaper Proprietors in Ireland, praying that no additional duty might be laid on Newspaper Stamps in that country. The petitioners stated, that if such a measure were resorted to, the revenue, instead of being increased, would be reduced to little more than one-half of its present amount. That, however, appeared to be the least important part of the subject, for he believed that an additional impost would strike at once at the root of the whole newspaper press of Ireland; and, in his opinion, the existence of such a press was, to a country placed in the situation of I re-land, of the utmost importance. He thought that the press of Ireland, in making known abuses, was most advantageous to the people of that country, and therefore he should oppose any measure that was likely to be prejudicial to it. It appeared to him that the Irish press had been greatly instrumental in effecting the all-important measure which had recently been sanctioned by the Legislature,—a measure which, more than any other, was calculated to restore and to preserve peace and tranquillity in Ireland. He had himself no connexion with that country, and he supposed that the petitioners would have intrusted their petition to some hon. Irish Member, who might have done it more justice than he could, if they had not thought that the proposition which they opposed ought to be looked to as a general measure—as a measure not confined to Ireland, but one which would affect the whole of the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. O'Connell
said, he had been Requested to support the prayer of this pe- 761 tition, which he would do most willingly. He wished to call the serious and anxious attention of the House to the subject to which the petition referred, and which was, to Ireland, of first-rate importance. He would not dilate on the question, but he would state this proposition, which he knew could not be controverted—namely, that if revenue were the object of the proposed increase of the tax on Newspapers in Ireland, that object would be wholly defeated; but if the extinction of Irish newspapers were contemplated, that project must succeed if the tax were persevered in. It would diminish nearly one-half of the present Revenue, if the Irish Stamp-duties were assimilated to those of England. It might be thought proper, as Ireland was at present governed, to silence totally the voice of the people there, but for his own part, he believed that such was the real object; and if it were not, he did not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer could possibly proceed with the measure.
§ Mr. G. Moore
observed, that he also was requested to support the prayer of the petition; and he would say that, no measure was more likely than that now proposed to destroy the press of Ireland—no project could possibly have a greater tendency to produce that effect. It would at the same time not only injure the Revenue derived from newspapers, but it would materially lessen the Revenue which flowed from other sources connected with the newspaper press.
§ Mr. J. Grattan
said, the proposed assimilation of Stamp-duties was a very harsh and unfair proceeding towards the press of Ireland, and he trusted that Ministers would not force it on that country. In the course of the last year the newspaper press of Ireland had taken a tone which was calculated to do much good, by preserving peace and harmony in the country. He very much doubted if the measure of the right hon. Gentleman would produce any accession of revenue, and, in other respects he was quite certain that it would operate mischievously.
§ Sir J. Newport
said, he had very serious doubts as to this measure being of such a nature as to produce any other effects, except loss of revenue, discontent, and dissatisfaction; and therefore he wished to impress on the House the extreme importance of the subject. The existence of the press of Ireland was very important to the welfare of that country, So far from its 762 being just or proper that the duties on newspapers should be raised, they ought, in his opinion, to be diminished, both in England and Ireland. It was quite evident, that if the tax were raised, it would have the effect, in a great measure, of closing the door against the expression of public opinion; and it was most important that no barrier should be set up to prevent individuals from canvassing and giving their judgment on the conduct of public men. It was his intention, when the Stamp-duties Bill was going into committee, to move that it be an instruction to the committee to introduce a clause for reducing the duty on Newspaper stamps and advertisements, both in England and Ireland, to one-half its present amount. If there were one object more important than another in the government of a state, it was, that the people at large should be made acquainted with the conduct of public men, and that public men should be made acquainted with the sentiments of the people, which could only be accomplished by giving increased facility to the diffusion of general information.
§ Sir H. Parnell
strongly objected to any additional duty on newspapers; and the placing of a heavier duty on the Irish press would, in his opinion, be especially mischievous. It would have the effect of checking the habit of reading, the encouragement of which would do much to tranquillize Ireland. He was sure, that at present, a great deal of evil originated in the non-existence of the habit of reading amongst the lower classes in that country.
§ Petition to be printed.