HC Deb 01 March 1833 vol 16 cc2-5
Mr. Dykes

presented a Petition from the Mechanics and other Inhabitants of the Borough of Cockermouth, praying for the Repeal of the Taxes upon Newspapers, and all other circulating Publications.

Mr. Aglionby

expressed a hope and a confidence, that the present Ministers, to whom the country already owed so much, would pay an early attention to the subject brought before the notice of the House by the petition; and take away all the taxes which pressed so heavily upon the circulation of knowledge. He was anxious that it should be effected, and that as speedily as possible, because he was convinced that the increase of knowledge prevented the increase of crime. He was the more confirmed in this opinion by the charge, reported in a Carlisle paper, said to have been delivered by a learned Judge on the Northern Circuit, to the Grand Jury, He would, if the House would tolerate him for a moment, read an extract from that charge, which he held in his hand. The learned Judge, after adverting to the very light calendar of crime which the town presented, added, "I should be extremely glad to ascertain to what cause this is owing. Your population is not far short of your southern neighbours; how is it, then, that crime is not so prevalent? I know that your police are active and indefatigable, and I know that your Magistrates are equally so, in the discharge of their duties. But I am more inclined to think, for my own part, that it is owing to the greater spread of knowledge among the poorer classes of the population."

Mr. Cobbett

I am decidedly for the repeal of this tax, because I am for a repeal of all taxes. But as to its being a tax upon knowledge, and as to knowledge effecting all that the hon. Member who has just spoken has stated, I beg leave to doubt that very much. With regard to the utility of what is called education in preventing the increase of crime, there is no Gentleman present who will deny, that, for the last thirty years, the circulation of books, pamphlets, bibles, newspapers, &c., has increased ten-fold—and, by the bye, His very strange, too, that with a liberal Government—a Government apparently anxious to promote education among all classes too—it is very strange, I say, that Acts of Parliament should exist prohibiting, under the severest penalties, the circulation of knowledge, and the spread of that education which they seemed to have so much at heart, Tis very strange, I repeat, that under a liberal Government, as they style themselves, above 200 persons should be in prison at this moment for simply assisting in the circulation of that knowledge. But as to education preventing the increase of crime, as the learned Judge expresses in his opinion, prodigious as is the reverence I must pay to the opinion of their Lordships—prodigious, indeed, is the reverence I ought to pay to the opinion of the Bench—when I remember a learned Judge declared to a Grand Jury in York, no later than the year 1819—what sort of a Grand Jury they could be who swallowed it, I shan't say—when I find him, I say, congratulating them and the country on the existence of a National Debt; and telling them, with the gravest face, and in the most earnest manner, that the National Debt was a national blessing—it may be so to some; but it is one which my constituents have not the least relish for—pro- digious as, I say, my reverence for the Bench is, increased, too, as I say it is, by such doctrines, yet I cannot agree to what the learned Judge says about education. The same learned Judge subsequently delivered some very extraordinary opinion on the law of libel in my own case. I am not the person who will quarrel with him now for that, or impeach his legal acumen and knowledge. I am not, of course, a profound lawyer; and of law I must necessarily know less than he knows. I wish I knew nothing. But on matters of political economy, or of education, and the effects of knowledge upon crime, I am quite as competent to form and express an opinion as he is. But it is not a question of my opinion against his; it is a question of fact. I only repeat now, what every Gentleman present knows as well as I can tell him, that though, for the last thirty years, bibles, tracts, pamphlets, newspapers, and penny publications have covered the entire country, as a field is covered by a shower of snow, still the increase of crime has not been in the slightest degree prevented. On the contrary, look at the criminal records of the country, and see if the increase of crime has not gone on increasing with the increase of knowledge, and the circulation of cheap publications. I do not mean for a moment, to impute the one to the other; or to say that the increase of crime is caused by the increase of knowledge; but still, I think, it is only fair to show, that the increase of one does not prevent the increase of the other; and that any argument founded on that basis must be futile. I am for the repeal of that tax, because I am for the repeal of all taxes, and because I wish freedom for every man to think, and write, and speak as he pleases, subject, of course, to the laws on the subject.

Lord Althorp

said, that he had just heard an observation from the hon. member for Oldham, which he had frequently heard before in that House by those opposed to the principles of education—that the extension of education did not prevent the increase of crime. A great deal had lately been called education, which was only the name of education; and if real education were spread among the people, he believed that great benefit would arise, and that it would have a great effect in preventing the increase of crime. He was aware that Returns might be referred to which showed that an increase of crime had taken place dur- ing certain periods. The hon. Gentleman, however, should consider the circumstances out of which that increase had arisen, and that it had generally been found, that most of the criminals had been entirely uneducated. He begged leave, therefore, to enter his protest against the principle that the hon. Gentleman had laid down, namely, that no decrease of crime followed the diffusion of education.

Mr. Faithful

remarked, that the noble Lord opposite appeared to have mistaken the meaning of the observations offered by the hon. Member below him (Mr. Cobbett). The latter had not said, as he understood him, that education had no tendency to prevent crime, but the contrary. He (Mr. Faithful) was ready to acknowledge that education had, to a certain extent, the effect of preventing crime, and he had no doubt but a great deal of crime had been prevented by the extension of education of late years. It would, however, while they admitted that principle, be desirable to inquire into the real cause of the increase of crime of late. He believed, that they should find that the increase was attributable to the present horrible system of taxation, and that crime would not be prevented till that system was altered. If an end were put to it, crime would soon decrease.

Mr. Aglionby

said, that he hoped, with reference to the taxes on knowledge, that the measure which he understood was in contemplation by his Majesty's Ministers would be sufficiently extensive to give satisfaction to all parties.

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