HC Deb 05 November 1830 vol 1 cc237-44
Mr. Hume

rose, pursuant to the notice he had given, to move for a copy of the King's Printer's Patent. In doing so, he regretted that the hon. member for Callington was not present, as, one fact being worth fifty arguments, he should be able to prove to that hon. Member, that there were other motives which influenced Members in that House besides patriotism and the good of the country, by which alone he was sure that his hon. friend was influenced. He had greatly to complain of the conduct of Government in not redeeming its pledges as to economy. The Government had pledged themselves to effect every practicable economy in every department of the State, and he had to complain, that on the expiration of the patent to the King's Printer, they had not redeemed that pledge, by acting upon the recommendation of a former committee of that House. He had supposed, that the principle as to patents had been long since settled. He conceived that his Majesty had a right to grant patent privileges to certain individuals, for certain inventions or improvements, but he was of opinion that the King had no right to grant exclusive rights to individuals, by patent, to tax the people, without the consent of Parliament. He should, at a future period, when he intended to introduce the question of patents as regarded lighthouses, &c, bring forward the whole question as to patents, so as to have it fully discussed and considered by a committee of that House. With regard to the present patent he had to state, that in 1799 Mr. Pitt granted the patent office of King's Printer to John Reeve, George Robert Eyre, and Andrew Strahan, for a period of thirty-one years. He (Mr. Hume) believed, that he should be able to show that this patent was granted to John Reeve, for the purpose of securing to him an income of 1,5000l. a-year. Mr. Pitt understood that the clear profits of the office amounted to 3,000l. a-year, and it was stipulated that John Reeve should have the half of that during his life. Reports had been made by a committee of the House with regard to this office, to which he should have occasion to refer, and for which they were indebted to the hon. member for Dorsetshire. That hon. Member was chairman of a Select Committee in 1810, which inquired into the affairs of that, as well as of other offices connected with the Government; and the Report made by that committee contained much valuable information as to this office. The committee stated, with reference to the patent, that "the printing of Acts of Parliament and forms of prayer, stands on a different footing from the other printing, since Messrs. Eyre and Strahan have an exclusive right to the former until the year 1830, in virtue of a patent, granted in 1799, constituting them King's Printers, the former patent expiring at that period. The two English Universities have also a right to print the acts and forms of prayer, but they have not exercised it." He would not complain if an exclusive right had been granted to. supply his Majesty with prayer-books, &c.; but what he complained of was, that an exclusive right was granted, to supply to the House of Commons and other places, to an amount that cost the public 36,000l. per annum. It appeared that in the year 1807, Reeve, conceiving that he did not get his fair share of the profits, filed a bill in Chancery, in which he alleged that the supply to Government alone amounted to 56,000l. and that the nett profits upon that single branch were 13,000l. The parties avoided the risk of exposure which would have attended litigation by coming to an accommodation, and the bill was accordingly withdrawn. So matters remained until the year 1810, when the hon. Member for Corfe Castle submitted to the House the propriety of instituting an inquiry into that and other public departments. That inquiry was made; and the Committee recommended the Government not to renew the patent of King's Printer, which recommendation, he was sorry to say, had not been attended to. The Committee said, in its ninth report, "Your Committee called for an account of work performed by Messrs. Eyre and Strahan, for the public, in the year 1808, and they find by the return made, that the expense of ' Acts, Bills, Reports, Accounts, Minutes of Evidence, and other papers' delivered in that year to the Lord Chancellor and the House of Peers, was 8,226l. 19s. 5d; and the charge incurred for Acts of Parliament, delivered in the same year to the Magistrates of the United Kingdom and others, pursuant to an Address of the two Houses of Parliament, arising out of a recommendation of a Committee of the House of Commons, appointed to report upon the promulgation of the Statutes, was 16,975l. 13s. 9d. To these two sums several others are added—an account of Forms of Prayer for a general fast; of Acts, Proclamations, and other papers delivered to the Privy Council, to the Secretaries of State, and the Speaker of the House of Commons; and an account of local and personal Acts; making the total amount of this bill 36,137l. 3s. 5d. A further sum appears to have been paid in the same year to Messrs. Eyre and Strahan of 4,459l. 14s. 3d. for the Commissioners for Records, and of 1,369l. 0s. 4d. for the 35th volume of Journals of the House of Lords. Your Committee do not find that the bill of Messrs. Eyre and Strahan, any more than that of Mr. Hansard, is subjected to examination in respect to the reasonableness of the rate of charge." But the holders of this patent were not satisfied with the profits on the printing, for they considered themselves entitled to make an additional charge as booksellers. They thus made a very considerable profit on the sale of Acts of Parliament, and other things to which the privilege of their monopoly extended. The Committee went on to state that—"Messrs. Eyre and Strahan conceive that this patent consti- tutes them booksellers as well as printers to his Majesty, and entitles them to charge in both capacities for all the articles supplied under that patent; and they consequently make a much higher charge for Acts and Forms of Prayer than for Parliamentary Papers printed by them for the House of Lords. Their charges are 2½d. per copy for every sheet in the Public General Acts of Parliament, and 6d. for each copy of Forms of Prayer. If these charges had been reduced to the rate of their charge for the Parliamentary Papers for the House of Lords, the charge of 2½d. for Public General Acts would probably have been considerably below 1½d., and the charge of 6d. for Forms of Prayer much below 4d., and in this case a saving would have arisen exceeding 40 per cent in the price of the Public General Acts for 1808, and exceeding 33 per cent in the price of the Forms of Prayer." That committee stated then that a saving of 40 per cent might be effected in this particular department. He was sure if he were to try, that every sheet of Acts of Parliament, for which those parties charged 2½d., he could get done by contract for ¾d. Let the House then only think what a loss the country had suffered from this patent office during the last thirty-one years. The work done in this office cost 150 per cent more than the same work done in the Stationery-office. The committee of 1810 condemned the principle of all patents for exclusive rights, for the sale of works, &c, as such patents partook of the evil of all commercial monopolies. The committee on that occasion pointed out the evils arising from the existence of this office, and it had ever since been the duty of his Majesty's Ministers to attend to their recommendations. It was said, that the Administration of the Duke of Wellington was saving and economical. He denied that it was so—he denied that there had been any saving in any of the public offices, except, indeed, in the instance of the office of Assistant-counsel to the Excise. When the individual holding that office died, the Duke of Wellington did not fill up the vacancy thus created, and that fact went the rounds of the papers for months afterwards. The hon. Member read from the report of the Select Committee, a statement of several items in the charges made by the King's printers,—one of which was—"for a general fast 997l." The patent granted by Mr. Pitt expired in 1830. What he (Mr. Hume) proposed to ask for was, that an abstract of the accounts of this office for each year, during that period, be laid before the House, in order that they might see the expenditure which had been incurred for it, and also that copies of the bill and answer which had been filed by one party against the other should be laid on the Table of the House, in order that they might be enabled to judge of the profits of this office. He had been taunted with a sordid economy; but it was not sordid economy to endeavour to cut down this and other such extravagant items of the public expenditure. One part of the contract by which this patent was held was, that one of the parties should sit in that House, and, of course, vote for the Ministers. Mr. Strahan did so for many years; and one of the King's printers, to whom the patent had been again granted, was returned at present to that House. He hoped that the patent had not been as yet renewed. An hon. Member told him that he saw it yesterday at the office in the Adelphi, where it must lie, and can be seen for a year, before it is enrolled. He therefore supposed that it had been granted. He must protest against the practice of granting exclusive profits to individuals, and of introducing them into that House to vote away the public money (he did not speak of the money granted to themselves, for which he did not so much care), and to add to the burthens of the people. It had been said, that more reductions could not be made, as the Government must be enabled to carry on the business of the country: by which he understood that Ministers must be enabled to command majorities in that House. The hon. member for Callington had talked of his using inflammatory language, but he only wished that that hon. Member were now present to hear him assert, as he did, that it was by such unhallowed, unconstitutional, and he might almost say illegal means, that Ministers commanded the influence which they possessed in that House. If that were inflammatory language, he trusted that it might reach to the remotest extremity of the country. He would maintain that the King's printers ought not to have the exclusive printing of any thing but for the King's private use alone, and that all the other work which was at present done in that office should be done by public contract. In the stationery-office they were capable of doing all that work, and ten times as much. A public contractor could only, have the trifling profits between him and the next offer; but the King's printer was a contractor without a competitor. If Ministers could sanction such a patent, they did not deserve the confidence of the country, and ought not to remain in power for an hour. It would be seen whether the country would sanction such a proceeding. He, for one, protested against it, and if the patent had been renewed, he thought the House was bound, in the discharge of its duty, to bring to its bar the persons who had signed and sanctioned such a patent. He would not say, as the hon. Member to whom that patent was granted was not present, that it was on that account he voted for Ministers, but he never knew him vote against them. [Hear, hear, from Mr. Spottiswoode.] He saw that the hon. Member was present, and he would repeat his assertion, that he never knew him vote against Government. He then concluded by moving for returns of goods delivered and work performed by the King's printer for the last ten years, in detail, the object being to show the immense expense incurred by Government in printing public documents beyond what they could be printed for by contract in an open market.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that he had some reason to complain of the course which the hon. Member had thought proper to pursue. He had merely given notice of his intention to move for papers, and, instead of deferring his charges until the papers were produced, by which they might be refuted or substantiated, he had availed himself of his motion to put forth statements which at least ought to have been postponed. He would appeal to the House whether, before the documents moved for were produced, it was right for the hon. Member to discuss the propriety of granting the patent to the King's printer. Before the House could come to any conclusion upon the point, it must be in possession of the patent and other documents moved for. It was alleged that Mr. Pitt had appointed a gentleman to that office, and that he had kept up a scale of high charges in order to avail himself of the parliamentary services of him whom he had appointed; but was it fair to urge the same charge against those who now acted upon an opposite principle? An immense saving had been made to the public since the death of Mr. Pitt, and the only question now was, whether the patent should be given to a public officer, or the public should trust to chance the printing of its documents. This was a matter of pounds, shillings, and pence.

Mr. Hume

.—Not quite so: it is likewise a matter of principle and of opinion.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

continued.—The patent to the King's printer was connected with the privileges of the Universities, for upon both did the public depend, that neither in the laws of God nor in the laws of Parliament should any inaccuracy be found. The patent, moreover, gave to things printed by the King's printer an authority in the courts of justice. The Duke of Wellington had taken every opportunity of abolishing offices that were useless to the public; and to prove this he need but to apply to the Boards of Stamps, Customs, and Excise, in each of which recent commissions had not been filled up. By not filling up the place of Mr. Carr, the public had saved 5,000l. a year.

Mr. Spottiswoode

said, that it had been asserted that he had made a contract to vote for Government in consideration of the advantages he derived from the patent. He denied the assertion, and defied any man to show such a contract: no man or set of men in that House had the right to command his vote, and if he differed from the opposite side of the House, that difference was not to be imputed to corruption. For his part he denied the charge. He did not fear the production of the patent, though he wished to hear from the legal Gentlemen in the House whether it was customary to produce the legal documents the hon. Member had called for.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that if the hon. Member was so willing to exculpate himself by producing the papers, he need not be so desirous of knowing what legal Gentlemen would say about the custom of affording documents to elucidate such a case. He would remind the hon. Gentleman, that in the Court of Chancery any man could get such papers, provided he could afford to pay for the stamps. It had not been asserted that the King's printer had entered into any contract to vote on all occasions for the Ministers: it had only been maintained that the chances were that the King's printer, as long as he possessed such a valuable patent, would always be found behind the Treasury bench, voting for the Government. This was only the doctrine of chances, and, as far as experience could trace, the doctrine had not proved fallacious. He denied what had fallen from the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the authority given in Courts of law to what was printed by the King's printer, under the present system; for, whatever were the arrangements or terms, every thing printed under the royal patent would carry with it its authority. He very much doubted the prerogative of the Crown to grant any such monopoly, and if such a prerogative did exist, it ought to be exercised only in obedience to the opinions of the country.

Mr. Maberly

thought the present a very inconvenient mode of discussing the Question. He objected to monopolies of all sorts, and he thought the present contract taken out of the common routine of contracts.

Mr. Hume

complained that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had put in his mouth words which he had never uttered.

Motion agreed to.