§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that before the Committee proceeded to the consideration of the clauses of this Bill, he thought it necessary to state to them in general terms the alterations which he proposed to make in the measure since it had been last under discussion. These alterations would, he thought, meet the objections which had formerly been urged by hon. Members on the last discussion in behalf of a very respectable class of persons; he meant the printers of the metropolis. The hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Jervis) had objected to the 180th Clause, the object of which was to impose on printers an obligation and liability with respect to the advertisement duty. It had been stated on that occasion (and stated with considerable force), that to subject the printer for arrear of advertisement duty, of which, in all probability, he was not cognisant, to have his goods and chattels seized, and all goods found on the premises, was unjust and hard towards him. He had always stated, that it was necessity alone which made him have recourse to that or any other step of a restrictive nature; and he was rejoiced to find, on communication with the Stamp-office, that by taking more precaution with respect to the security given for the collection of the advertise- 271 ment duty, be should be enabled to free the printer altogether from the application of this clause. Therefore his first duty was, to move that Clause 180 be omitted. It might, perhaps, be convenient that he should proceed a little further, in stating to the Committee the other alterations which he meant to propose. In the first instance, he wished to express his determination of adhering to the resolution which he had originally formed of not imposing any obligation which was not absolutely necessary, but at the same time not to leave himself powerless with regard to the collection of the revenue. With respect to the word "pamphlet," inserted in one of the clauses, it was objected to it that such publications would thereby be brought under the terms of this Act as were not at present subject to the newspaper duty. He meant to omit that word altogether; but in order to guard against abuses (which on a former occasion he had stated as his only object in introducing the word), it was his intention to introduce a general clause for the purpose of preventing any paper liable to a stamp escaping free of duty by being put into a pamphlet shape. Now with respect to the stringent clauses giving immediate power against those who violated the laws, it was urged in objection to them as they originally stood," These clauses will subject parties to penalties without their knowing that they are liable to them. We (continued the printers) are perfectly satisfied with and entirely acquiesce in your design of taking all necessary steps for the collection of the revenue, provided you do not entail upon us risk and inconvenience, and loss of character, and forfeiture of property, if inadvertently and without notice we commit a violation of the law." He thought he might as well, as so much doubt had lately been expressed with respect to the quarter from which he received information, and on what suggestions he had acted, at once give the names of the four gentlemen who waited upon him with reference to this question on the part of the printers. They were Mr. Woodfall, Mr. Richard Taylor, Mr. M'Clure, and Mr. Alexander Mackay. After some communications he received from them certain propositions which appeared to them the most desirable to have adopted. He told them that without communicating with the Stamp-office department, and his hon. Friend, the Attorney-General, to submit 272 them to the one, in order to see that these suggestions were not likely to cause any loss to the revenue; and to the other, to ascertain whether they were practicable, he could give them no distinct answer. On that day he had seen them again; he had gone through the new clauses with them, and they were convinced that these clauses (233 and 234) were unexceptionable. These clauses, then, would run in the following manner:—All printers would be not required, but permitted, to register their names at the Stamp-office, to state their place of abode, and where the business of the journals or newspapers which they printed were carried on; and when they undertook the printing of any new journal, to state the name of that new journal. In the event of this class of printers printing any new journal without a stamp, they would not be subject to a penalty until they received notice, by which it was announced that the paper which they printed was not stamped; and that if they did not discontinue it, they would subject themselves to the penalties of the Act. Also, with respect to the stamped press, it was provided, in order to guard against another inconvenience which this regulation might cause, that if any of those printers of registered papers has one hundred papers with the stamp impression sent to him to print, and one thousand without it, and that he prints them, he thereby commits an evasion and violation of the Act, and must abide the consequences. For he held it to be clear, that the receipt of such papers as were without the impression with directions to have them printed was in itself equivalent to the notice which, in the case of a registered printer printing an unstamped paper, the Stamp-office was bound to send him. These alterations met the objections which were urged on a former night; they answered the views of the printers, who were the parties principally affected by these clauses; and the only parties subject to the penalties of the Act without notice were those who refused to register their names, and who could not complain of having no notice of their violation of the law served upon them, since they did not afford any means of doing so. Observations had also been made on the definitions given in the schedule of the Bill as to the publications which should be liable to stamp duty. Now, he had already distinctly stated, that there should be no 273 publication brought within the schedule which was not now subject to stamp duty. But in order to prevent any possible disadvantage, he was prepared to continue any exception which now existed in express terms. Now, with these alterations, hon. Gentlemen would see, that whilst they had not abandoned one iota that was necessary for the security of the revenue, they had taken every possible means to screen the parties from all just cause of complaint. There had been objections urged on a former occasion to Joint-Stock Companies, or large Newspaper Companies, the proprietors of which were unknown; and it was suggested that a registration of the names of the proprietors might be very expedient. He believed that the hon. Member for Liskeard (Mr. C. Buller), who spoke upon this question, was not then prepared with any motion upon this subject; all he could say was, that he did not think a registration of the proprietors absolutely necessary for the protection of the revenue, but he certainly considered it part of that salutary system of restraint by which responsibility was imposed on all parties connected with newspapers. On the question of the separate die for each newspaper he wished to reserve himself until the clause which referred to it should arise; but he deemed it necessary to give the general explanations which he had done, before the clauses which occasioned them were brought under discussion. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that Clause 180 be struck out.
§ Mr. Wakley
expressed his gratification at finding that the clause before the Committee was to be omitted, and that the word "pamphlet" was to be expunged from the Bill. He observed that the right hon. Gentleman had, in a conversation which took place on a former occasion, promised that the 60th Geo. 3rd, c. 9, should be repealed; the repeal of that Act would remove a great many difficulties, and, doubtless, the right hon. Gentleman would not be forgetful of his promise. It was essential that persons should know distinctly what a newspaper was, in order that when publishing a history they might not be liable to the consequences which attached to the printing of a newspaper. He hoped that the Session would not pass without a Copyright Bill being brought into that House and carried through it. The question of such a measure was a very important one; the property of individuals 274 to an enormous amount was involved in it, and those individuals sought a protection which that House ought unhesitatingly to grant. The extent of their property was vast; their skill and industry greater almost than was applied to any other business; and yet no men were more exposed to plunder than newspaper proprietors. At the same time he must say, that they were in the habit of plundering each other; it was not the unstamped press which committed depredations on the stamped press; it was the stamped press which committed depredations on itself.
wished to ask his right hon. Friend how they were to come at those printers who had not their names registered at the Stamp-office, and who might be engaged in printing unstamped publications?
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
replied, that they must proceed against them as well as they could; just in the same way as when information was received of the existence of an illicit still.
§ Mr. C. Buller
trusted, that some measure would be passed for preventing the news contained in such papers as The Times and Morning Chronicle from being transferred, in a few hours after the publication of these papers, to other prints.
§ Mr. Wakley
observed, with respect to what had been said by the hon. Member for Cambridge, that the printing presses were now liable to be seized if they were not registered, so that by leaving the law as it stood, the difficulty which the hon. Member apprehended would be obviated.
§ Clause struck out.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer then proposed Clause 233.
§ Mr. Hume
admitted that the Bill had received considerable modification; but it was evident that it took a long time to wring any thing from the Excise. For his part, he wished to see the Excise abolished altogether. He was persuaded it might be most advantageously dispensed with. He was exceedingly sorry to see the House shutting the door against a free press; for it was evident that the object of the Bill was to put down an unstamped press. For a paltry penny tax the reign of ignorance was to be maintained throughout the land. In the unparalleled situation in which we were, the revenue in so flourishing a condition, the time of the House was wasted for a very paltry consideration. If Government were to get rid of all the 275 stamp duties they would do much good, and would obtain more credit than almost by any other act.
§ Mr. Grote
cordially concurred in all that had fallen from the hon. Member for Middlesex. He entertained more repugnant feelings towards the present Bill, than almost to any measure which had ever come under his consideration; and he trusted the time would soon arrive when the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer would propose the abolition of the penny duty, and thereby remove every obstacle to the diffusion of knowledge throughout the country.
§ The clause was agreed to.
§ The remaining clauses of the Bill were agreed to.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in pursuance of an intention previously intimated, brought up a new clause to enable printers to register their names and presses, and thereby more effectually to guard themselves against the penalties imposed on the publication of unstamped papers.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
had another clause, with respect to which he felt it necessary to say a word or two in explanation. Many representations, had been made to him to induce him to reduce the stamp on newspapers published in Ireland from one penny to one halfpenny, but several reasons had led him to resist the applications. He was bound, however, to admit that there was something in the strong and serious remonstrance made to him by the Irish newspaper proprietors, and he had stated to the parties who applied to him that he would make some concession to the Irish newspapers in the advertisement duty. The House was well aware that the duty at present imposed upon newspapers in Ireland was two-pence, upon which a discount was allowed of twenty-five per cent. If, therefore, the duty were now reduced to one penny, and the discount not continued, the actual reduction afforded to the Irish newspapers would be only three farthings. Now three farthings was not an amount that the publishers could charge upon the price of their paper, and it would consequently happen that whilst they received only the advantage of three farthings in the reduction of the duty, they would be obliged to give an advantage of one penny in the price charged to their purchasers. By this means they 276 would be losers to the extent of one far- thing upon each paper. By way of compensation for this disadvantage, he had proposed, in the first instance, to strike off half the advertisement duty in Ireland; but having been subsequently in communication with some of the gentlemen representing the Irish newspapers, and especially with two of them who were attached to very opposite political principles, and having been informed by them that the continuance of a discount of twenty-five per cent, upon the penny stamp would be infinitely more advantageous (whilst the sacrifice to the revenue would certainly not be greater) than the reduction of half the duty upon advertisements, he felt disposed to yield to their wishes, and accordingly now proposed to add a clause to the Bill, by which a discount of twenty-five per cent, should be allowed upon the stamps issued to papers in Ireland. He meant, however, to make no change in the advertisement duty.
§ Mr. Hume
hoped the right hon. Gentleman would reconsider his arrangement, and not establish such an inequality of duties as he contemplated throughout the three kingdoms. He would rather see the whole duty abolished altogether, than sanction such haggling about a penny for England and Scotland, and three farthings for Ireland. He wished to know why the Chancellor of the Exchequer tolerated the idea of such partial and unequal legislation for one part of the United Kingdom?
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
stated, that in the remission of duty in England and Scotland, there was a positive and absolute advantage given both to the public and the proprietary, Here both would be gainers; but in Ireland the case would be otherwise, and while the public would gain a penny, the proprietors would lose a farthing. He felt quite as much as the hon. Member the consistency and convenience of establishing equal laws for the three kingdoms, but he felt it more imperative (looking to the state of the existing laws) to do equal justice to those whose property would be affected by those laws. He had, therefore, in retaining the penny stamp for Ireland, determined on allowing the twenty-five per cent., as, without doing so, he felt he would be committing a great injury, and inflicting a serious wrong on the Irish proprietors. But he did not make this arrangement for the sole advantage of the proprietors; he 277 wished to obtain for the Irish public the game advantage that he secured for the English, and by the plan now before them the entire reading public would be put on the same footing, and be enabled to obtain the same benefit from the reduction.
could not see why there should be less duty paid in Ireland than in England, or why the Chancellor of the Exchequer should now fix on a less duty for Ireland than the one originally proposed. The proposal was entirely his own, yet the right hon. Gentleman had the inconsistency to alter it, and disarrange the equality of the plan of revenue which they were prepared to agree to, as intended to operate alike on all parts of the kingdom. He called on the House not to sanction a scheme which went to extend an indulgence to Ireland that was not also granted to the press and the public of England and Scotland.
§ Mr. George F. Young
agreed with the hon. Member for Cambridge. He thought these boons and concessions were very unjust and unstatesmanlike. If they went further in their partial legislation and indulgence to Ireland, it would soon be necessary to raise the cry of "Justice to England." He called on the Chancellor of the Exchequer to assimilate the duties on stamps in every part of the country, if he wished to satisfy the people, and do justice to the press of the empire.
§ Mr. Robinson
confessed he could not gee the reason of the arrangement. He thought the Chancellor ought to make the duties equal everywhere, and allow the proprietors in Ireland to get what they could from their customers. The House, in framing equal laws, had nothing to do with the results, and need not enter into the subject of proprietors' profits, or interfere in the private bargains which the parties might be inclined to make, and which would of course be determined by the value of the article.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the Irish papers were peculiarly circumstanced, and could not be compared to the English as to their capability of bearing taxation. Their circulation was very limited, and their profits proportionally small. He wanted to make the penny duty there as productive as possible. To effect that, and make the penny reduction operative, they must enable the proprietors to make it felt by the public in the price of the paper. In England, by the 278 reduction, they gave the public two-pence and a farthing to the proprietor, and therefore the reduction was so far a benefit to both parties; but to give the Irish public the same penny advantage, the proprietor must be a farthing the worse; so that the arrangement he now submitted was necessary to restore the balance, and secure justice to all parties.
§ Mr. Robinson
declared he would divide the House on this point, rather than sanction such an inconsistency as it involved.
§ Mr. Baines
reminded the House that the irregularity in the Irish duty had prevailed before this Bill was framed, and that Irish newspapers stood more in need of consideration and protection as not being so profitable, for their purchasers were not in a situation to pay as well.
§ Mr. Wyse
said, that it was not sufficient to say that the scale of taxation of the two countries must be the same in any measure applying to Great Britain and Ireland. Before the act of legislation was decided on, they should look to the ability of the latter to pay it. He quite agreed in the general principle that had been advanced by hon. Members, that it was highly unwise to establish any inequality either of civil rights or amount of imposts in different parts of the United Kingdom. But it should be recollected that this difference had already been established as respected Ireland, and it was therefore necessary for them to consider how far that country was prepared for such a change as hon. Gentlemen advocated. Now he thought that the position in which the press of Ireland stood with respect to revenue was one of the cases that especially required to be viewed with an eye to its capability to bear an equality of taxation. In instituting a comparison, they should recollect the large profits which the proprietors here were enabled to gain in consequence of the large circulation their papers have, not only in London, but through all England and Scotland, and in Ireland also. They also derived a great profit from the large number of advertisements they inserted in the ordinary routine of publication of the wants of a wealthy population. Hon. Gentlemen seemed to take it for granted that the Irish newspapers had the same circulation in Ireland that the English newspapers had in England, and ought to afford a similar remuneration. The fact was quite the 279 reverse. The majority of Irish newspapers had a very trifling circulation even in Ireland, and none out of it; and, with the exception of Saunders's News Letter, there was scarcely a newspaper in Ireland which had an amount of advertisements that could be compared to what an English paper presented. He would, therefore, support the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Wakley
said, that by this scheme there would be a four-farthing tax upon papers in England and only a three-farthing tax upon papers in Ireland. Why should there not be a perfect equality between the two? For his part, however, he would not entreat the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) to withdraw this proposition with respect to the stamp in Ireland; on the contrary, he would request him to adhere staunchly to it, trusting that that House would relieve him from any further difficulty upon that point by compelling him to adopt the same course with respect to England.
objected altogether to discriminating duties, and must therefore vote against the clause.
§ Clause read a first time.
§ On the question that it be read a second time, the Committee divided Ayes 89; Noes 52: Majority 37.
§ Mr. Robinson moved, that the word "Ireland" be excluded, to equalise the duty in both parts of the empire.
§ Mr. Wakley
trusted, if he could not obtain an additional benefit for England, he should not act so illiberally as to refuse it to Ireland; but he was prepared to contend, that if the rate of duty were not the same both in England and Ireland, a gross injustice would be committed against the provincial newspapers of England.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
reminded the House of the circumstances under which he had originally proposed the penny duty, and denied that he could fairly be accused of any departure from the principle he then stated. He would only say, that he should gain considerably by this small duty in Ireland, and that if the duty were equalised he should lose from 60,000l. to 70,000l. a 280 year. The concession sought for was a concession of revenue, which he, on behalf of the Government was not prepared to make.
§ Mr. Goulburn, considered, that aftert he House had sanctioned the right hon. Gentleman's proposition for a penny duty in all parts of the empire, he should be merely acting in furtherance of his original proposal by voting for the amendment.
§ Mr. Robinson
said, that if the right hon. Gentleman found himself in difficulty in consequence of losing the support of some of his friends, who would have supported a general penny duty, it would only be because he had been the very first to depart from his original plan.
Mr. Francis Baring
said, that hon. Members seemed to forget that when his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, opened this question to the House originally; he stated that he intended to give some relief to Ireland beyond lowering the duty to one penny, and that was intended to be a reduction of the duty on advertisements. The Committee would do well, therefore, not to reject the proposition of his right hon. Friend. The Committee should not overlook the fact that if the duty were the same in both countries, the Irish papers would be open to an immense competition with those in England, and therefore a less duty should be taken from the Irish papers than from the English.
§ Mr. Arthur Trevor
considered, that the reduction of the duty, so far from being any relief to the community, would be the means of scattering abroad a large mass of nuisance, and a large mass of mischief. If this mischief were to be done, however, let it be done fairly and above board, and let them deal equally with both countries. No man in the House was more strongly opposed to the principle of the reduction than himself; but if it were to be made, he would have it made equally.
protested against the Irish people, who were taxed to a far less amount than the English, deriving any-greater pecuniary relief, if it were only to the extent of a farthing.
§ The Committee divided on the amendment;—Ayes 6l, Noes 106: Majority 45.
§ The Committee again divided on the Clause, Ayes 104, Noes 79: Majority 25.
§ Mr. Grote
then rose to propose the insertion of the following clause:—"And be it enacted, that in the stamp to be affixed to each and every newspaper under the provisions of this Act, the title of such newspaper shall be expressed in 281 such convenient manner and form as the said Commissioners of Stamps and Taxes shall appoint; and the said Commissioners shall cause a proper die or stamp for such newspaper to be prepared under their direction, and a new or other stamp or die to be from time to time prepared in like manner as they shall think necessary; and the reasonable costs and expenses of preparing such stamps or dies shall be from time to time defrayed by the proprietors of each such newspaper, and paid when and as required by the said Commissioners to such person as the said Commissioners shall appoint to receive the same, before any paper shall be stamped under the direction of such Commissioners for each such newspaper. This proposition was partially stated on a former evening when the Bill was in Committee, and it seemed to be received with some degree of favour; he, therefore, could not but hope that the right hon. Gentleman would now accede to it. He was sure that it must be a very great and paramount object with every Gentleman of that House, to have the official returns of the circulation of newspapers framed in the most accurate manner possible. He was, however, sorry to say that the returns, stating the various comparative numbers of stamps taken out by the newspapers of this country, had been anything but accurate. In the last return made to the House, it was found that there were no less than twenty newspapers which appeared never to have been supplied with stamps at all, while many others had affixed to them numbers of stamps as issued by the Stamp-office bearing a very small proportion to their known circulation. For want of accuracy in the stamp returns, several papers. The Sherborne Journal and The Liverpool Mercury for instance, had had credit for a very small circulation, whereas the number of their publications was very considerable. Now, he was sure it was not the disposition of any hon. Gentleman to give the proprietors of any newspaper the advantage of an apparent superiority in circulation, whereby they might acquire a greater degree of reputation and of priority over others than the intrinsic worth of their newspaper entitled them to. The Chancellor of the Exchequer appeared to be so far sensible of the mischief that had arisen from the present state of the law on the subject that he was content to allow any newspaper the option that thought fit to employ a die peculiar to itself. But 282 the right hon. Gentleman must perceive that this would not be a sufficient remedy against the evil complained of; because those newspaper proprietors who were most willing to resort to the ordinary means of giving to themselves credit for a greater circulation than they in reality had, were precisely that class who would not use the optional stamp. The House, perhaps, was not aware that to a great degree the number of advertisements in a newspaper did not depend merely upon the weight or authority of the paper, but upon its circulation; and there was a strong temptation, therefore, to the proprietors, to have recourse to means by which they might appear to have a much greater circulation than they actually had. This temptation to deceive was considerably increased by the facilities afforded to the parties by the present system pursued at the Stamp-office. It was to amend that system that he now brought forward this clause, and he could not anticipate any serious ground of objection to the proposition he was about to make. It could not occasion any inconvenience to the newspaper proprietors themselves for it could be of no more inconvenience to them to have a stamp with a peculiar title than to have it without, and as to the expense it was too trifling to be mentioned. He had never heard of any one newspaper being publicly hostile to such a plan; and in fact every fair and honest proprietor must be desirous that his neighbourhood should be relieved from the disadvantages they laboured under from the present system. He did not, therefore, anticipate any opposition from the fair and honest proprietors of newspapers. It had been stated, as an objection to his proposal, that by the present system one country newspaper could borrow stamps from another, and by that means they could publish their full complement of circulation, whereas if there was a distinct die this could not be done. Now to this argument he would in the first place observe, that country proprietors ought, surely, like all other tradesmen, to have sufficient foresight to make provision for their ordinary, or even for any extra circulation of their paper. But in the second place, this argument could be of no avail whatever, inasmuch as the right hon. Gentleman had himself, by the 173d Clause of this Bill, made it illegal for one paper to transfer stamps to another. He trusted, that his proposition which did not bear hard upon the newspaper proprietors would not meet with any opposition.
§ Clause brought up and read.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
felt bound to object to the present clause. He wished it to be distinctly understood that this clause, whilst it imposed a restraint upon the newspapers, was in no respect necessary to protect or secure the revenue of the country. He also begged to state to the Committee, that by the post of this day, a circular letter had been addressed by the Board of Stamps to all newspapers, stating, that any one who wished to have a distinctive die, indicative of their own paper, upon the paying the expense thereof, a die would be at once prepared. Therefore, the only question between his hon. Friend and himself was, whether it should be obligatory on all papers, whether they liked it or not to have a distinctive die. Now what was the argument of his hon. Friend? He said, and said truly, that the House had been accustomed, from time to time, to call for Returns of Stamps, with a view to ascertain the extent of the circulation of newspapers; and that these Returns were delusive. By reason of that delusion, these Returns gave an unfair representation of the circulation of different newspapers, and thereby enabled certain of them to deceive the public as to the extent of their circulation, which materially affected the interests of others on the subject of advertisements. He believed he had fairly stated the argument. Now he should say to his hon. Friend, that the proper way of meeting this case was, not by imposing restrictions on newspapers in order to avert the inconvenient consequences resulting from a wrong step originally taken, but by avoiding for the future to take that step which was wrong. He held it that the Legislature had no more right to inquire into the number of papers which any particular newspaper establishment circulated, than it had to inquire into the number of stamps which had been used in an attorney's office. In fact, they had no more right to inquire into the private concerns of a newspaper establishment than they had to inquire into the private concerns of any other description of business. This had always been his opinion, and he had consequent always resisted the production of these Returns. They were delusive accounts, and could not be relied on. He always contended, and would still contend, that so long as a newspaper avoided the commission of any offence or fraud on the revenue, it ought to be left fully free and unfettered as to the mode of carrying on its own business. This subject 284 of the distinctive die had been pressed upon his attention by various persons connected with the newspaper Press, who attached very great importance to it. His answer always had been, "It might be very well for you to like a peculiar mark on your paper; you shall have it if you ask for it; but I have no right to impose upon nine-tenths of the newspaper Press, a regulation which is of no use so far as regards the revenue, and which they do not ask for though you do." He therefore left it open to all parties to avail themselves of the power of using a distinctive die or not as they pleased. But it had been asked, how he could reconcile his objection to a distinctive die with the 173rd clause, by which it was rendered penal for any newspaper to buy stamps issued to any other newspaper. He would tell his hon. Friend how this could be reconciled. The 173rd clause was a revenue clause, and was inserted in order to prevent the possibility of forging stamps or of getting stamps improperly. By this clause the Stamp-office would be enabled to trace any stamp back to the newspaper which had received it from the office. That was the sole object of the clause; and not to inquire into the business of newspaper proprietors, or of any other parties. These were the grounds upon which he objected to this clause. But there was another ground. If by passing this clause he should be compelled to make out distinctive stamps for the 250 newspapers that were published in the country, he must postpone the commencement of the Bill from the time it was now proposed to come into operation, because it would be utterly impossible to get the dies ready, and to have all the arrangements made by the period now fixed. But if the Bill should be carried in its present form, and if the use of the die (adopted optionally) should be found to answer, and no inconvenience should arise from it, then he for one should not object at a future period to propose to make that which he thought ought at first to be a free and voluntary plan obligatory upon all parties. But he was reluctant now to impose such a regulation upon the news-papers of the whole United Kingdom, when, in point of fact, only a few considered it of any importance. Another objection to the adoption of the clause was this: suppose the newspaper should change its title—a thing by no means improbable, the consequence would be that the die must be changed; and then the whole stock of stamps which that establishment might happen to have would be lost, 285 or the stamps must be changed. This would, at all events, occasion great difficulty. The plan certainly would neither increase nor lessen the revenue; upon the question, of revenue, therefore, he could have no objection to it; but for the reasons he had stated, and as it would operate severely upon some parties, he felt bound to oppose the clause.
§ Mr. Leader
said, that according to the provision of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, it was made illegal to transfer stamps from one paper to another. Now by the adoption of this clause the right hon. Gentleman had the power entirely in his own hands; for the very best possible means to prevent stamps going from one person to another, was by requiring the use of a die by each newspaper. It would not require many days preparation. At any rate he thought there would be no difficulty in providing the stamps at the Stamp-office. If there was, then the clause might be postponed for six months before it came into operation. All the dies might surely be prepared by that time. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that the House of Commons had no right to the Returns of stamps consumed by the newspapers. But he would maintain that they had a right to those Returns. Newspapers were not merely private property. The populations were so much interested in their proceedings that they had a right to know the extent of their operations. Indeed, they might almost look upon newspapers as a species of public property. Besides, how was that House, or how were the public to know, unless the Stamp-office gave a true account of the number of stamps issued by them, that the sum received for the newspaper stamps was not misappropriated or embezzled? He, therefore, could not see on what ground these Returns could be refused. He was the person who moved for these Returns, and he had since received letters from every part of the country complaining of the inaccuracy of the Returns, and accusing him for having moved for them. His answer to the parties was, that it was their own fault —it was their fault for allowing agents in London to take out stamps in other persons names for their use. They could not blame the Stamp-office, but themselves, for not taking out stamps according to law. If there was a distinctive die it would be utterly impossible for any advantage of an extensive circulation to be taken away from any newspaper. The right hon. Gentleman 286 had said, that it was a restriction upon newspapers; but in his opinion it was no restriction at all, he therefore hoped the Committee would adopt the clause.
§ Dr. Bowring
thought, that the adoption of a distinctive die should be permissive. Those who used it would obtain credit with the public for their plain-dealing, while those who did not would always be under the opprobrium that there was some motive which they dared not avow, which induced them to conceal the extent of their circulation. The right hon. Gentleman having allowed proprietors of newspapers to obtain that security which the making known to the world the full extent of their circulation by the use of a distinctive die would give them, had done all he could. Were they to call upon every newspaper to adopt a die, they would be establishing a despotism, which was quite unnecessary. Those who used the die, would have all the benefit of a contradistinction from those who did not use it. There would consequently be a motive constantly operating to induce the person who had a great circulation, to obtain a distinctive die. Those who did not apply for it, would be under the disadvantage of being supposed to shrink from that test, as to the extent of their circulation, which other persons were willing to appeal to.
§ Mr. Robinson
observed, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had looked at the question as it regarded the revenue, and next as it affected the proprietors of newspapers themselves; but he begged to observe, that there was a third party who had a great interest in this question, and that was the public at large. It was well-known, that the trading part of the community was enabled to give publicity to the different branches of the public, of the goods they had to dispose of, through the medium of advertisements, and it was also known, that the public decided from the relative extent of the circulation of the papers, as to which paper they would advertise in. The only question, then, that appeared to be at issue was, whether the public had an interest in knowing what papers were bonâ fide of great circulation; and if so, whether they were entitled to have Returns from the Stamp-office to give them that information. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had said, they ought not. But he would maintain, that the public ought to have some tangible means of knowing what paper was of the greatest circulation. The Chancellor of the Ex- 287 chequer said, that he had gone as far as he could go, by giving the parties the option of using a distinctive die, if they pleased. But that would not effect the object desired; the proposition, therefore, was, that it should be obligatory. To this he agreed. The only objection he had heard to it was, that it would prevent the present Bill going into operation so soon as it was now proposed; but that might be obviated, by requiring the distinctive die to be adopted at a later period. He did not think the other objection, that of having a stock of stamps on hand, if the title of the paper were changed, was of any weight. Such stamps might easily be changed for others. On the whole, he thought the plan was a good one, and against which no newspaper had any right to complain. The public would, at all events, receive this advantage from it—they would obtain some tangible and official evidence as to what papers enjoyed the highest amount of circulation.
§ Sir Robert Peel
did not see the force of the objection made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the proposition of the hon. Member for the City of London. He did not see why, consistently with the alteration they were about to make in the law, they should not go one step further, and impose on all newspapers the use of a distinctive die. There might be an objection to this in point of time, but in point of principle, he thought there could not be any; because, by the 173rd Clause it was made penal for any person to take out stamps in the name of one paper to be used by another. It was therefore required that the party should take out stamps for his own use only. It was also required that a Return should be made of the number of stamps so taken out, so that the Stamp office would always know what the extent of the circulation of each newspaper was. The question whether the number of stamps issued to each newspaper should be published or not, would remain precisely the same, whether the clause proposed were adopted or rejected. It did not follow as a necessary consequence, that if each newspaper were required to use a distinctive die, therefore the public would know how many stamps were taken out. The right hon. Gentleman might still resist the publication of the number of stamps issued, upon the ground that the principle was not a right principle. Whether the argument of the right hon. Gentleman would be a valid argument or not he would not stop to inquire. Be it as it might, the 288 adoption of the present clause would leave the principle the same. The right hon. Gentleman had said, that under his optional clause newspapers which were of extensive circulation would take out the die, and those which did not would lie under the opprobrium of being of small circulation. But if, in point of fact, the Legislature indirectly required them to take out a die, or else subject them to public mistrust, why will you not go to the length of saying—that the law requires you should take out the die? It appeared to him to be infinitely better to take one or the other of these courses. Either to say, the newspaper proprietors should be at liberty to transfer stamps from one to the other; or to say, they should take out the die. But to say that it should be permissive was altogether delusory. Unless effectual security were taken, nothing could be accomplished. He was not aware that any objection existed to the adoption of the die. The expense would be exceedingly trifling. He thought, therefore, that to make it compulsory on newspapers to use a die, would, upon the whole, be perfectly fair. It would be the most effectual security to all parties, and it would still remain for the House at any time to determine, whether or not Returns should be made to show the actual amount of circulation of each paper. He therefore, for himself, not having heard on the part of the newspapers any objection to the taking out of the die, was rather inclined to support the proposition of the hon. Member for the city of London.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
had already stated, that personally he had no objection to the proposition; he only wished that it should be distinctly understood that this was not a provision for the sake of the revenue. If the proposition should be adopted, it would be proper to fix some date when the die should begin to be used.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
If there be no objection to this proposition, and if my hon. Friend will reserve his clause until the bringing up the Report, I will consider the question; as I shall not myself have any objection to the proposition.
§ Clause postponed.
§ The schedules were proposed.289
stated, that they had now come to a part of the Bill to which he wished to call the attention of the House, because he was satisfied that, if the House considered the subject, they would agree with him in the amendment that he had to propose. The clause now under discussion proposed, in future, to limit the size of paper to be printed upon, subjected to the penny duty, to 1,530 superficial inches. As the law stood at present, there was no restriction whatever on the size of newspapers. The removal of any such restriction had been introduced into Parliament in the year 1825, by the late Mr. Huskisson. Up to that year, it was quite true there had been a restriction upon the size of newspapers. In 1825 the subject underwent discussion in Parliament, and on the representation that it was injurious to trade, and caused a loss to the revenue, Parliament thought it best to take off the restriction upon the size of the newspapers. At the present moment there was no restriction as to size. The present Bill proposed to introduce a new restriction upon the press. When he had the honour, upon a former occasion, of presenting a petition from the proprietors of newspapers, he observed that the size which appeared to be much in use would subject to an increased duty a considerable portion of the press, both morning and evening papers. Experience, too, he remarked, had proved, that since 1825 the press and the public alike had gained from leaving it to each proprietor of a newspaper to adopt that size which he thought best. Now, he considered that if Parliament thought it right to alter the law, this, at least ought to be done—to leave all the proprietors of newspapers upon an equal footing. It was not just to select such a size for all newspapers as would give to one particular newspaper the benefit of that which ought to be a general enactment. When, too, they considered what was likely to be the effect of the intended change, and what were now the expectations of the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he trusted and believed that the House would have no reason to reject the amendment which he meant to propose. Now he could say that the real question between his right hon. Friend and himself was this —would he allow the margin in the superficial measurement of the newspaper? If his right hon. Friend would not take off 290 the margin, then there was very good ground for complaint. He would not ask his right hon. Friend to leave an unlimited discretion to proprietors of newspapers for the future. But he did ask his right hon. Friend not to interfere with the property and trade of those already established. He assured the House that the question of the margin of newspapers was now the whole question before them. More than this he did not ask for. Upon every just principle he considered it ought to be conceded. If it were conceded, the interests of trade would not be interfered with, and the public would be gratified. He had heard a great deal upon former occasions as to the imposing of duties, and interfering with the conduct of men in the management of their business. The Reports upon the Table, from the Commissioners of Excise pointed out the injury done to trade by restrictions of this nature. He asked of his right hon. Friend to concede on this point to what was the universal opinion of all those examined on the question of taxation, that duties ought not to be imposed which interfered with the management of a trade by those already embarked in it. Such an inconvenience, he conceived, would be the necessary result of his right hon. Friend's proposing an increased duty upon all papers beyond a limited size. The tax, in the manner proposed, it was almost impossible to collect with accuracy, for it was allowed that there was the greatest difficulty in limiting to the precise size the paper brought in order to be stamped. The reams of paper were sold by weight, and in opening those reams the sheets differed from each other, so much so, in the number of inches, that an honest proprietor, desiring strictly to conform to the law and to have his paper within the prescribed limits, might still, without any fault of his own, have in some reams the paper exceeding in length what the law required, and thus be subject to an additional duty, or to a heavy penalty if the duty was not paid; was it just, then, when a person was unable to measure the individual sheets, that he should be subjected to a penalty. This was certainly interfering with the private trader in a manner that was most injurious to the trader, and it was doing so without conferring the least advantage upon the public. Now, if they adopted the superficial matter printed, if there were 291 to be 1,530 inches of printing allowed, that was what every man would be competent to regulate. Thus they would have a test for controlling the size of the newspapers, and one too with which the individual would be able to comply. This would be one which each proprietor could execute, and which if he transgressed he would be justly liable to a penalty. As this was a matter concerning trade, and considering the interests already embarked in it, the capital laid out in machinery for printing papers of a particular size, the injurious results that might follow if some such proposition were not adopted, he was sure that his right hon. Friend could not but be induced to accede to the amendment which he now proposed. If the duty were to continue as it then was, it would be found, he was sure very inconvenient in principle and as regarded a matter of finance. Such must be the case if his right hon. Friend persisted in making papers beyond a particular size pay an additional halfpenny duty. He could say, as a measure of finance, his right hon. Friend would find that if he thus checked the size of newspapers, he would lose more by it, on account of the loss of duty from advertisements that must be the consequence of such a plan. He would lose more by advertisement duty than he could gain from the additional stamp on the newspapers. His right hon. Friend might tell him that the additional duty was required as a postage upon the increased size of the newspapers. Now, that might be a good argument as regarded the Post-office, but the proprietors of newspapers thought it a very inconvenient arrangement as regarded them. The Government should look, not at the gain of the department of the Post-office, but at the gain of the general revenue of the country; and if the duty on advertisements would produce more to the revenue than the additional payment of a halfpenny on the increased size of the paper, Government would act wisely in not imposing this restriction on the newspapers. He was really at a loss to conceive on what arguments were urged the expediency of the proposed alteration. Was he to be told that this was the argument? That it was not proper that one newspaper should have a monopoly of advertisements—that it had that monopoly already, and that it would be better to distribute those advertisements amongst a greater number of newspapers? He did 292 not know whether that was or not an argument used upon the other side. [The Chancellor of the Exchequer—No.] His right hon. Friend declared that it was not, then he should not press it further. It had been urged that there was no necessity for imposing this restriction, which parties embarking their capital in newspapers had no right to anticipate. The restriction proposed was one that interfered with the progress of trade, and which, if fit to be applied at all, should be only applied to newspapers hereafter to be printed. The words he should propose to be added were "exclusive of the margin." He did think this was the best mode of effecting the object he had in view, that of giving the necessary protection to the proprietors of newspapers for any variance in the size of their papers. He thought the right hon. Gentleman opposite could not object to his proposition. If there were any objections to the particular form in which his amendment was submitted, he should be most willing to change it, so as that he could effect the object he had in view.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
wished to call to the recollection of the Committee the proposition which he had made on a former occasion. He stated then, that it was his intention that every newspaper sheet, of a certain size, should pay 1d. duty. If this were not the case, papers would be published of an almost unlimited size; and they must also take into account that the restrictions upon the size of newspapers were rendered necessary by the reduction of the duty—the present duty being intended to pay the expense of postage. Some restriction of size was, therefore, rendered necessary, as the charge of postage was contained in the Stamp-duty. The question then was, what that restriction should be, and as he had stated on a former occasion, in order to interfere as little as possible with existing establishments, he took the maximum size of a single sheet from the newspaper of the largest size published throughout the empire. Then came the question of double sheets, or of two newspapers made up into one. It occurred to him, unquestionably, that if a double sheet were to be carried by the post, it ought to pay a higher duty than a single sheet. If, for instance, newspapers of no particular dimensions were stated in the Bill, if they allowed newspapers of any dimensions to be carried at a single duty, newspapers might be ex- 293 tended to an unlimited size; and yet they would still be liable only to the duty of 1d. He did not think this reasonable or fair. That was the ground on which the present restrictions respecting the amount of duty were imposed. The proposition, however, made by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Goulburn) was a different one, and came recommended by some considerations to which he would advert. It was perfectly true, as had been stated, that restrictions upon the size of newspapers might sometimes produce inconvenience, because, as his right hon. Friend had stated, all the sheets of a newspaper might not necessarily be of the same size. It would answer the purpose for which the sheet was necessarily limited, that it should be defined as the quantity used for the purpose of printing; and in order that the variation might be satisfactory if the quantity were calculated not upon the sheet of paper itself, but upon the actual printed part of the sheet—the result of the proposition of his right hon. Friend. The object would thus be gained, interfering at the same time but little, or not at all, with the Bill, and still protecting the revenue. At the same time, if he were called upon to carry by the post an undefined weight of paper at 1d. stamp duty, he should think such a proposition very unreasonable. But the proposition of his right hon. Friend he thought perfectly reasonable, and he was sure that his right hon. Friend must see that, in establishing restrictions, it was with the object of protecting the public from those abuses which otherwise they might reasonably apprehend. He had no difficulty, therefore, in acquiescing in the proposition of his right hon. Friend; but he begged it to be understood distinctly, that the printed part of the newspaper was to be considered independent of its size. As to the details, he believed that they would satisfy each other. There would be no difficulty to interfere with an arrangement, and as they did not differ about the principle, the details might be subject for consideration.
thought, that nothing could be more fair than his right hon. Friend's statement. He (Mr. Goulburn) was extremely glad that his right hon. Friend had acceded to his proposition, as he believed it would satisfy all parties.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that the duty was imposed upon the same principle upon which letters paid postage. Single letters all paid the same postage, and if a double letter were put into the post it was charged double. There must be a limit somewhere. The question had, however, been already discussed, and settled on the basis of a penny stamp, and if they were to say that half-a-sheet of paper should only pay a half-penny stamp, they would be abandoning the principle upon which the House had already decided to act.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that there was a still stronger reason. When newspapers have the temptation to publish double-sheets, they do not do so without giving the public an equivalent. It was not done because the newspaper had double the quantity of news, but for the advertisements, and upon each advertisement the sum of 1s. 6d. was paid, and therefore, though they permitted double-sheets for the same stamp, in point of fact they were in another way deriving great advantages. Take for instance The Times newspaper. The amount of its advertisement duty was 10,000l. a-year. This was much more than sufficient to pay the expenses of postage. He confessed that he thought it much better to place a duty of 1d., and he was sure that newspapers which had the temptation to publish double sheets would in so doing be giving the public some equivalent in the way of advertisements. At the same time his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had met the proposition of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Goulburn) with so much fairness, that he would withdraw all objections to the restrictions. He was of opinion that it was quite just and reasonable that the restrictions should be placed on the quantity of the printed matter. If they took the mere size of the newspaper, it would be subject to inconvenience, because sometimes there was a difference of size in the sheets on account of the great rapidity with which they were cut off, and if they took the size of the paper, it might happen that 100 newspapers would be subject to the additional duty, whilst the remainder, containing the same quantity of printed matter, would be free from it. The compromise proposed was a perfectly fair one; 295 it was founded on principles of justice; but his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was justified in reserving the further consideration of the means of giving it practical effect.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that perhaps it would save trouble if he went through the definition, and stated in what it would differ from what it was at present. He stated on a previous evening, that that would be a newspaper under these schedules which was a newspaper under the existing laws. There was one alteration, however, to which he wished to call the attention of the Committee—one which he thought he was bound to make in justice, and which could be made without inconvenience. He had heard from the stamp department that no inconvenience would arise from the alteration to which he was about to call the attention of the Committee. Under the definition in the 60th of George 3rd these words were included: —"Also any paper containing any news, occurrences, &c.;" and then came these words—"or upon any matter in Church and State." This gave rise to a supposition, that if one were to publish a history of the Reformation, which concerned the Church, or a history of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, which concerned the State, though this was not news within the fair and proper interpretation of the words, it would yet fall under the definition. Now, he proposed the exclusion of these words, as the only effect of them was to bring under the Newspaper Act matters concerning Church and State, which were not news, nor occurrences, nor commentaries upon news or occurrences. This alteration would lead to no possible inconvenience.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that there was one part of this subject to which he was anxious to draw the attention of the Committee —he meant the subject of copyright. He hoped that it was the intention of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Rice) to make the protection of copyright concurrent with any changes in the law. They were about to make a great revolution in the mode of conducting newspapers simply by the reduction of the stamp duty, which would destroy what some called a monopoly, but what others considered to be the true cause of the very high character of the press 296 of this country, more particularly with respect to its intelligence. In making these great changes it was a matter of strict justice and sound policy to devise some means of giving for a short period some copyright. Unless there was, at the same time, a remedy of a summary nature, in point of fact no copyright could be effectual. He must say, that of all the phenomena of civilized society, he doubted whether there was anything more remarkable than the mode in which the people of this country were supplied with intelligence. It was one of the most wonderful instances in which, without the intervention of Government, merely by dint of private exertion and expense, the public was supplied from all parts of the globe with that intelligence, the possession of which constituted one of the great sources of rational amusement and instruction. Some said that the press of this country was less eminent in point of intellect and ability than that of other countries. He did not entertain that opinion. Of course, in the free discussion of political questions there would be always much of acrimony, of personal comment, and reproach; but upon the whole, comparing the press of this country to that of France, or the United States, or to the press as it existed in any other country, or ever did exist, it was a remarkable instance of ability and intelligence, of readiness, of application in the mode in which the public intelligence was procured through the intervention of private men, and a most remarkable instance of the application of capital. Unless they secured the possession of this intelligence to those who procure it at such labour and expense in the first instance, it was the only mode in which it could be obtained, and a sufficient inducement held out to those persons who thus incurred such expense. He hoped, at the same time that they reduced the amount of duty, which might have operated as a monopoly, that they would act consistently with justice, and make concurrently some regulations by which those who had been at the trouble and expense of procuring the earliest intelligence might be protected from being deprived, for a few hours at least, of the exclusive advantage of that intelligence. He hoped, that in the course of the session some effectual means would be devised also to prevent all interference with the title of a newspaper for the purpose of imposing on the public, and he hoped that, within certain limits (for there must be limits), those 297 who had gone to the expense of many thousands in procuring intelligence would, in the first place, be allowed a copyright; and next, that it would be made effectual by some summary process.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
rejoiced that the right hon. Baronet had made the statement that they just heard. It would be in the recollection of many Members present, that in a former debate twelve months ago, he stated, that it not only appeared just and proper, but that it was a positive obligation on them to protect as far as they possibly could the property that was invested in newspapers, and which might be invested in them in future. They knew, though it might be scarcely regular according to the orders of the House to advert to it, that the machinery of the press to which the right hon. Baronet had adverted was most wonderful. The debates in that House, up to three and four o'clock in the morning, were reported with surprising accuracy—indeed, considering the difficulties of the case, with extraordinary accuracy, precision, and general fairness. This was done at a very considerable expense, and it would be extremely unfair if, after being put to this expense the proprietors were, through the rapidity of printing, to be deprived of the advantages which they had obtained through their own labour and capital, and it should be made available to others who had contributed no labour or capital. He was, therefore, most anxious and willing to devise some scheme to put a stop to such practices. He was most anxious to devise some effectual plan for protecting such property. As to the protection of the title of newspapers, that could be undoubtedly given. It would be the more easy to do this, for, according to the plan of the Member for the city of London, there would be a distinct die for each paper, which would mark the paper. Then as to the leading articles, it was easy to protect them. But when they came to that which was not an original, but a copy, they could not say how many copies were taken from the same original. It would be exceedingly difficult to prove this in a court of justice. Two persons might say they had taken measures to have the same report—that they had persons reporting as well as the others. Now how was this to be met, unless by giving evidence of the notes from which the report was taken. In the case of foreign intelligence, also, which was procured at a great sacrifice both of labour 298 and capital, undoubtedly it was a matter of great interest and importance to receive despatches of this kind from Spain or Russia, and other parts in which events of great public moment were going forward; but at the same time he must add, that great difficulty would be found in coming to any arrangement whereby to identify intelligence of this kind with the paper it might happen to have been originally printed in. Now with regard to the remedy. Undoubtedly to be effectual it should be summary. But here, also, it would be no easy matter for courts to decide in a summary manner upon questions of piracy of this description. He alluded to these particulars, not with any view to relieve himself from the obligation under which he felt that both he and the House laid, of coming to some arrangement on this subject. As he had before stated in the course of the evening, he had received the sketch of a proposed Bill, from parties connected with the London press, and they might rest assured that he would leave no effort untried to meet the question at the earliest opportunity, and he trusted he should do so in a way to give satisfaction to all parties.
§ Sir Robert Peel
merely rose to add to what he had already stated, that he recollected many instances in which the first intelligence of important occurrences— particularly during the war—were received by Government through the means of newspaper establishments; and often of those papers which were at the time in op-position to the Government.
§ The remaining clauses of the Bill were agreed to.
§ The House resumed; Bill reported and ordered to be printed.