§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into a Committee on the Stamp and Excise Acts.
§ The Speaker having quitted the Chair.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that on a former day he had generally stated his views as to the reduction of the duty on newspaper stamps; subsequently the hon. Baronet, the Member for Northamptonshire, had expressed his intention to substitute a partial reduction of the duty on soap. He had then promised that the discussion should be taken in such a shape as to enable the hon. Baronet fairly and fully to present his motion, and accordingly the House had now resolved itself into a Committee, not only on the Stamp Act, but on the Excise Acts. What he meant to do this night was to submit a single resolution, that it is expedient that the duty on newspapers should be reduced from 4d., less the discount, to 1d. If this were carried, it would be 613 made an instruction to the Committee on the Stamp Bill to alter the provisions of it accordingly. He had already taken good care that no Member should be committed in the former stages through which that Bill had passed, and in the schedule the stamp duty on newspapers was specified to be 4d. He would reserve to a later period of the evening the questions controverted between the right hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Goulburn) and himself respecting the size of newspapers, double sheets, and matters of that description. First, it would be more convenient to settle the point in dispute between the hon. Baronet and himself upon the plain and intelligible principle whether it was fit that the duty on newspapers or on soap should be reduced. The right hon. Gentleman moved, "That it is expedient that the duty now payable be reduced, and that the duty paid and payable upon every sheet or piece of paper whereon a newspaper is printed shall in future be 1d., subject to such provisions respecting the size of newspapers, and the printing of supplements, as may hereafter be deemed advisable."
§ Sir Charles Knightley
rose to move the amendment of which he had given previous notice. His proposition was, to reduce the duty on soap. The hon. Member for Lincolnshire had some time ago brought forward a motion to abolish altogether the duty on soap; and the only argument with which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had resisted that motion was, that it could not be granted with a due regard to the public revenue. He only proposed to take off a small portion of that duty; and it was only necessary for him to prove that the reduction of the duties on soap would be more beneficial than the reduction of the duties on newspapers. First of all, the reduction of the duties on soap would be a benefit to the farmer. The reduction of the duty would increase the consumption of the article on which it was imposed, and that would increase the demand for home produce, by increasing the demand for fat of animals. It had been said that the farmers did not at present stand in need of relief. He admitted that they were now better off than they were formerly; but he was afraid that their present prosperity was only a fleeting dream, a gleam of sunshine which would soon disappear. When the farmers asked relief to a large amount, 614 they were told that it could not be granted; and now, when they asked only for a small boon, he trusted that it would not be refused to them. He believed there was no instance of a farmer complaining of the high price of newspapers; but he knew of many instances in which they had expressed the delight which they would feel in obtaining a reduction of the duty on soap. If he were to vote for the reduction of the duty on newspapers, instead of voting for the reduction of the duty on soap, he did not know how he could face the farmers and ask them for their votes. How could he ask a man for his vote, who was enabled to say to him, "Instead of giving me the opportunity of getting clean hands for myself, and clean garments for my wife and daughters on a Sunday, you give me at a low price a parcel of dirty newspapers?" It was quite absurd to say, that the stamp duties on newspapers debarred the poor from reading them. In London, newspapers were abundant enough, for coffee, shops which took them in were to be found in every street. He had from curiosity sent a person to visit one of those coffee-shops, and that person informed him, that for 1½d. he had obtained a good cup of coffee and a sight of every newspaper published in London. And these papers, after they were read in the coffee-shops in London, were sent to all parts of England, he fancied at a greatly reduced price—less, it might be, than one-half. To be sure they did look as if the thumbs of their readers wanted a little soap. He believed that the hon. Member for Finsbury would not be able to sell newspapers to his constituents for less than 3d. a-piece, even if the stamp duties were taken off; and now it appeared that they could be read and enjoyed with a good cup of coffee for just half the money. Did the newspaper proprietors call for any reduction of these stamp duties? Had the House had any application from the proprietors of the Times, the Standard, the Morning Post, and the Morning Herald papers on our side of the question? Had they had any applications from the proprietors of the papers on the Ministerial side? No: one of them had absolutely deprecated the removal of those stamp duties. The Globe, which always supported the Government, and was generally supposed to be its organ, said, "The amount of mischief which might, or might 615 not be done be done by a sudden supply of such writings, diffused through every hamlet, we cannot see far enough through a mill-stone to prophesy. It would depend on a variety of circumstances beyond calculation. Sure we are, the first fruits of the measure would be anything but the diffusion of knowledge, whatever might be its ultimate consequences; at least, the knowledge would not be of that pure and calm kind which is commonly deemed to merit the name. Political speculations on ignorance always deal in invective and violence; in appeals to anger, envy, distrust,—as other fanatics deal in damnation. Wholesomer wares are not half so saleable; and if Brummagem knowledge were suddenly encouraged by the total removal of fiscal restrictions, as well as by furnishing better organized means of transmission through the medium of his Majesty's post, we do not say it would be destructive, but we say it would be exceedingly troublesome, and very apt to find work for his Majesty's Attorney-General, treading, like Nemesis, on the rash web of his Majesty's Postmaster. It would require continual legal repression; that is to say, if incitements to turbulence are meant to be repressed at all.
On the other hand, what was the opinion of those who were engaged in the soap trade? At a meeting held by them at the George and Vulture they had unanimously agreed to a long string of resolutions, calling upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer for a reduction of the soap duties. After reading those resolutions the hon. Member proceeded to observe, that one of the arguments employed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in support of his proposition for reducing the stamp duties on newspapers was, that the 1d. duty, from the increase it would produce in the sale of newspapers, would produce as much as the present duty of 3¼d. Now, if there was anything in that argument, it was just as good for soap as it was for the newspapers. He had gone to the Post-office last Saturday night, out of curiosity to see the mails, and he found them so heavily laden that it was hardly safe to travel by them. He asked one of the guards what was the reason of it, and the guard told him it was owing to the quantity of newspapers, which distressed the horses exceedingly. Now, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was 616 right in saying that the 1d. stamp would produce quite as much as the present stamp, then the quantity of newspapers must be more than trebled; and if so, there must be a tax raised for their conveyance. His reason for preferring his own proposition to that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was, that the tax on soap pressed with undue severity on the poorer classes. The poor man had his soap taxed seventy-five per cent., whilst the rich man's soap was only taxed thirty per cent. The reduction of the duty on soap would not only promote the health and comfort of the poor, but would also increase the demand for agricultural produce. The reduction of the duty on newspaper stamps would do nothing of the kind—it would not benefit the farmer or the poor, and the rich did not want it. He therefore called upon the Chancellor of the Exchequer to accede to his motion, and upon the House to improve the minds of the people by purifying their bodies. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer reduced the duty on soap, he would benefit the country; if he reduced the duty on newspaper stamps, he would inflict upon it, in the shape of a cheap profligate press, one of the greatest curses which could desolate humanity. The hon. Member then moved a resolution, that the duty on hard soap be reduced from 1½d. to 1d., and on soft soap from 1d. to ¼d. a pound.
§ Mr. Charles Barclay
seconded the amendment. The amount of revenue obtained by the soap duties was 799,000l., deducting the drawback and the expense of collection. If his hon. Friend's reduction were acceded to, the amount of revenue obtained by the soap duties would be 555,000l.; so that his reduction would create a loss of 244,000l., supposing that only the same quantity of soap was consumed after the reduction as before. But as the reduction of duty in general produced an increase of consumption, he did not anticipate that the loss to the revenue would be more than half that amount, or 122,000l. Now, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had estimated the loss which the revenue would sustain in consequence of the reduction on newspaper stamps at 125,000l. He had the authority of the Excise Commissioners, with Sir Henry Parnell at their head, for saying that no trade suffered so much as the soap trade, from the great number of onerous regulations to which they were subject in 617 order to prevent fraud and illicit manufacture, but which it had become altogether impossible to act on in practice. The effect of reducing the duty in 1833 had been considerable, the increased manufacture of soap in the country having already exceeded seventy per cent.; while it was a curious fact, that in London and in Scotland there had been a reduction. He did not believe that the reduction of the duty on soap would be any great relief to the agriculturists; he believed that no tax which the Chancellor of the Exchequer could give up would be regarded as an adequate been to the landed interest; and he very much feared any great reduction could not be made without leading very soon to an alteration in the corn-laws, which, having been in that House, and consented to their imposition in 1815 and 1826, he still believed to be essentially necessary for the protection of the landed interest. But he would support the proposition of the hon. Baronet, because it would relieve the honest trader from the unfair competition of the illicit manufacturers. It was of the utmost consequence that the contraband trade should be put an end to, because the House should know that Wales was supplied with soap entirely from Ireland, where no duty was paid, and it was well known the drawback was allowed to a much larger extent on the export trade of Liverpool, than had originally been paid by the manufacturers. Much good would therefore necessarily result from the suppression of smuggling, and especially if conjoined with the adoption of the hon. Baronet's proposition, But, apart altogether from this view of the subject, he had a decided objection to the reduction of the duty on newspapers. One of the arguments in favour of that reduction made use of by the right hon. Gentleman was the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of enforcing the penalty against those who evaded the present state of the law. Now, in his (Mr. Barclay's) opinion, no duty could be more easily enforced; because at the bottom of every sheet the printer's name was uniformly to be found, and was not the printer liable? He firmly believed the duty might be enforced, but unfortunately a spirit of opposition had been raised to those duties as unpopular; and when he recollected the example which had been set by a noble lord (Earl Fitzwilliam), during the discussions on 618 the Reform Bill, refusing to pay all taxes, and the threat held out by another hon. Member in that House, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer refused to reduce the particular duty on newspapers, he did not wonder when such a course had been taken by those in responsible situations, the poor and ignorant had been deluded by their pernicious example. The hon. Baronet who preceded him had already informed the House that there was no want whatever of newspapers. Every individual, there could be no doubt, to whom Parliament bad given the elective franchise, had already ample opportunities of possessing and reading the newspapers of the day, whether at the public-house, beer-shops, or coffee or public reading-rooms; and he was confirmed in that opinion by the increase which had of late years taken place, estimated at sixteen per cent., in the papers which paid the stamp duty. He was persuaded, under these circumstances, that the country would not be a whit wiser, better, or happier by the remission of any portion of such a tax. He could not well conceive on what grounds the Chancellor of the Exchequer could justify his present course; indeed, he believed he never could have adopted it had it not been unwillingly forced upon him. If left to himself, he firmly believed the right hon. Gentleman would have selected a tax much more important in itself, and in its remission much more likely to prove generally beneficial; but he found it impossible to resist the persuasion of thirty Members of Parliament who had interviews with him at the Treasury, and some of whom were represented to have used language which he (Mr. Barclay) did not believe could have come from any Member of that House. As he had already stated, those individuals whom Parliament had intrusted with political power had sufficient opportunities of consulting the public newspapers as at present published; but the cheap papers, with all the trash they purveyed, were directed to those who had had not been invested with political power, but to whose physical force so many appeals were made in that House. If the plan of the right hon. Gentleman were adopted, they would soon hear of 14,000,000 in this country demanding new rights and privileges, as they were now accustomed to hear of the 8,000,000 elsewhere and justice for Ireland. Yes, justice for England, and justice for Ire- 619 land—asking for justice and receiving a Stone! The greatest benefit had arisen from the reduction which had taken place in the beer-tax, both with respect to increased consumption and improvement in the quality of the article; similar advantages had already attended the partial remission of the duty on soap, and, believing that greater good would flow from the adoption of the proposition of the hon. Baronet than from the plan of the right hon. Gentleman, he should cordially support the amendment.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that in replying to the observations made by the hon. Baronet, the Member for Northamptonshire, he should not only state his objections to the amendment, but, at the same time, he should also give the reasons which induced him to prefer his own proposition and to recommend it to the House, and which he trusted would induce the House to sanction it. Before, however, he went into the observations which he intended to make on this part of the subject, he would make a few remarks in reply to what had fallen from his hon. Friend who had just sat down. The hon. Member had asserted that he did not bring forward the proposition which he had submitted to the House, in consequence of preferring it, but because it had been forced on him by a certain number of Members of Parliament who sat behind him, and who generally gave their support to the Government. In reply to this assertion, he would only say, that he never would make a proposition in that House which he did not conscientiously think would be for the benefit of the country. Let there be a confederacy on one side for obtaining the total abolition of the stamp duty on newspapers, and on the other side for the continuance of the present duty, and instead of it a reduction of the soap duty, he would merely say that it was his duty to do that which he believed to be most beneficial, without regard to the consideration, whether his proposition would be successful or not, on this side of the House or the other. The hon. Gentleman had very slightly observed what had been going on, if he thought that the proposition had been forced on him. During: the sixteen years that he had been in Parliament, he had never met with so much abuse and obloquy, both spoken and written, as had recently been heaped upon him by certain hon. Gentle- 620 men, in consequence of the scheme which he had proposed, and thus either to dissuade him from bringing it forward, or to induce him to withdraw it, and make a proposition of a very different kind. The hon. Member for Surrey had at least rendered it less necessary that he should make any observations on one part of the speech of the hon. Baronet; for the hon. Member had said, with perfect truth, that if he were asked whether the adoption of the proposition of the hon. Baronet could be regarded as a been to the agricultural interests, that he would reply that he did not, for one moment, suppose that there was any ground for such an assumption; for that he, as a practical man did not believe that it would give them any relief. The hon. Baronet, in proposing a reduction of the duty on soft soap, was most liberal, for no portion of the agricultural interest could in the slightest degree, be benefitted by it; for nearly all the soft soap that was manufactured in this country was made from oils which were the produce of other countries, and which were imported for the purpose. But the proposition which the hon. Baronet had brought forward was inexpedient as a financial measure. He objected to it, on grounds which he would very shortly state to the Committee. In the first place the soap duty was a gradually increasing duty, while the stamp duty on newspapers was a diminishing duty. He contended, therefore, that he was justified on every sound principle of finance in pursuing the course which he proposed, when he found from the finance statement on the table that the duty on soap was increasing, while the productive amount of the newspaper duty was diminishing. He would not detain the House very long with this part of the subject, but he would direct the attention of hon. Gentlemen to the comparative duties on soap and newspapers within the last few years. He would take the years 1831 and 1835. In the year 1831 the quantity of hard soap on which duty was paid was 109,000,0001bs. In 1835 the quantity had increased to 135,000,0001bs. With respect to soft soap, which appeared to have been selected by the hon. Member as a special object for his protection, there had been a great increase in the consumption. In 1831 the quantity of soft soap on which duty was paid was 9,600,000 lbs., and in l835 the quantity was l2,103,0001bs., showing an increase of nearly a fourth in a 621 very short interval of time. The stamp duty on newspapers did not show the same result. In 1831 the amount of duty on newspapers was 483,000l., while in 1835 it had diminished to 455,000l. This was a very considerable reduction. The next element for consideration was, whether they should give relief in one quarter or the other— whether they should give something to that to which a considerable share of relief had already been afforded, or to an article which was placed under a disproportionate duty, and which was struggling under a heavy tax. It happened with respect to the soap duty that it was reduced one-half a few years ago, on the proposal of his noble Friend, Lord Spencer, who was then Chancellor of the Exchequer. The soap duty was then reduced to the rate which was paid during the reign of Queen Anne. The stamp duty on newspapers was kept up to the highest amount of duty ever imposed. He, therefore, would not add to the relief already given to the soap trade, but would give relief where it had not previously been afforded. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to the very great increase that would take place in the consumption of soap, if his proposition was carried. But he was prepared to show, that no very great increase would take place in the consumption of that article, if the resolution of the hon. Baronet was carried; but that a loss to the public revenue would be occasioned, of not less than 260,000l. a year. The hon. Baronet, in order to prove his statement, referred to the authority of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the operation of the Excise laws, and which he had pointedly urged, had been appointed by the present Government, which, therefore, should attend to their recommendation. But he would ask the hon. Gentleman whether he was prepared to assent to carrying all the recommendations of the Commissioners into effect? and more especially with respect to the soap trade? For instance, would he propose, as they recommended that the soap duty should be extended to Ireland? The hon. Baronet called upon the House to vote for a proposition which, he said, was recommended by the Commissioners; but from fear of not obtaining the support of certain Irish Members to this proposition, he abstained from saying that he would support the other recommendation, that the soap-duty 622 should be extended to Ireland. He had, however, on this subject, in his possession, documents which he thought would be conclusive to the mind of even the hon. Member, who might be supposed wedded to his own proposition. They had already made a reduction of one-half of the soap duty—namely, from 3d. to 1½d. per lb. He would ask the House to consider what effect this reduction had had as regarded the increase in the consumption of soap, and then judge what would be the effect in making a further reduction. Since the duty had been reduced to 1½d, per lb., there had been an increase in the consumption of soap of about 10,000,000 lbs. To make out the case, then, which had been stated by the hon. Gentleman, he must show that although the reduction of 1½d. a lb. duty had produced an increased consumption of 10,000,000 lbs., that a reduction of a halfpenny a lb. would produce an increased consumption of 60,000,00lbs. a year. He had already said that the soap duty had been reduced to the minimum which was pad when the tax was first imposed, namely by the 7th of Anne. In 1782, the tax was increased two-pence farthing a lb.; in 1816, it was increased to twopence halfpenny; and in 1818, it was increased to three pence; and in 1834 it was reduced to three-halfpence a lb., the same amount of duty that was paid in the reign of Queen Anne. With respect to the impediments which the excise regulations threw in the way of the soap manufacturers, he had a few remarks to make. He should be sorry if his hon. Friend, the Member for Surrey, supposed that he thought the laws regulating the soap trade required no alteration. He admitted that they did, and he felt satisfied that if they could be altered, it would give great relief to the trade. These regulations were only justifiable on the score of affording security to the revenue, and if these restrictions could be removed without injury to the revenue, it would be the duty of Government to remove them. He hoped that, if not during the present session, at least at the commencement of the next session, he should be able to introduce a Bill to make certain alterations in the law as regarded the restrictions in this trade, so as to afford relief to the soap manufacturers. There was nothing, however, in the statement of the hon. Gentleman to justify the 623 reduction of the duty in the assumption that there would be an increase of consumption, and above all, when there was another and more pressing object which required the attention of the House, So much for soap—he would next proceed to the more material question before the House. He believed that they would then have heard little respecting the reduction of the soap duty, if it had not happened that both in that House and out of it there were gentlemen who were altogether opposed to the reduction of the duty on newspapers. The hon. Member for Surrey probably entertained that opinion, as he cheered the observation. He believed that the fact was, that the reduction of the soap duty had been started against that of the newspaper duty; and if the latter had not been proposed, they would not have heard a word from Gentlemen opposite respecting the former. The real question they had to ask was, whether the House was prepared to agree to a reduction of the stamp duty on newspapers? He asked for the deliberate judgment of the House on this subject-he asked them to weigh well the arguments which he should adduce on the subject, and he trusted that he should be able to induce each party to give up something by showing that the public interest required it. He had to contend against two classes of opponents. He did not bring forward his proposition as a means of getting popularity, for he had only met with vituperation and attack for having brought it forward, and with the strongest opposition from those who on former occasions originated motions similar to that which he now submitted to the House. The proposition he made did not originate with the view of gaining popularity, but was a grant and concession to public necessity and expediency. He thought that there would be no difficulty in showing that if they left the duty on newspapers as it was, they would run the risk of finding the opposition to that duty carried much further than at present. It might lead to a general violation of the law, and a general disposition to encourage those illegal publications. It also should be recollected, that allowing things to remain as they were would be a want of justice on the part of the Legislature towards those parties who paid the duty. He would address one argument on this part of the subject to both parties—to the 624 class that objected to any reduction in the tax of newspapers, and to those who demanded the abolition of the whole tax and who objected to any. duty. First, then, to the hon. Gentlemen who objected to any reduction. He had already said that the amount of duty on newspapers had been in a gradual course of diminution since 1831. In that year the amount of duty was 483,000l.; in 1832 it was 473,000l.; in 1833 it was 445,000l.; in 1834 it was 441,000l.; and in 1835 there had been an increase in a trifling degree, for the duty was 455,000l. So that there had been a gradual reduction in the amount of duty for some years; and that under circumstances which he believed that any hon. Gentleman would admit warranted the supposition that there would have been an increase. He would ask whether the education of the people had diminished, their anxiety for information lessened? There could be no doubt as to the facts of the case. It was a matter of regret on one side, it was a subject of rejoicing on the other, that the thirst for political information had been greatly increased by the political changes which had recently been made. If something did not impede this species of knowledge, the amount of the tax, instead of showing a diminution, would exhibit a great increase. In this, as in other cases, the revenue had sustained a loss in consequence of the duty having been raised beyond the legitimate amount which should have been imposed. Gentlemen were aware that the stamp-duty was first imposed in 1712, and was at the time strongly opposed by some great authorities. The opponents to the newspaper-tax which he alluded to were not great Radicals or innovators, or in any way hostile to the institutions of the country. The great opponent of the tax was Mr. Addison, who then filled the office of Secretary of State. He anticipated what was soon realised—that the duty which it was proposed to impose, and which was comparatively a high one, would lead to a decay of this branch of literature. In a paper in The Spectator, of the date of the 1st of August, 1712, the day the tax came into operation, he makes the following observations:—This is the day on which many eminent authors will probably publish their last words. I am afraid that few of our weekly historians, who are men that, above all others, delight in 625 war, will be able to subsist under the weight of a stamp, and an approaching peace." * *In short, the necessity of carrying a stamp and the improbability of notifying a bloody battle, will, I am afraid, both con-cur to the sinking of those thin folios which have every other day retailed to us the history of Europe for several years last past. A facetious friend of mine, who loves a pun, calls this present mortality among authors, "The fall of the leaf." There was still the same effect which Mr. Addison complained would flow from the tax. It might easily be shown that but for this tax there would be a much greater number of newspapers printed and sold, and Mr. Addison had shown in the first instance it had led to the same result. But did hon. Gentlemen entertain doubts as to whether the people were anxious for the species of knowledge diffused by newspapers? If hon. Gentlemen did, let them boldly own it. But the truth was, that they were afraid to trust the people with this species of information. But he would not be a party to withhold it from them. The hon. Member said, that the people had already the means of obtaining the species of knowledge conveyed in newspapers, and he said, let them go to the public-house or the coffee-shop, and they would see a great number of newspapers of all parties for a very trifling sum. The hon. Member had read a list of papers which were furnished to a coffee shop. There was The Standard for one party, and The Morning Chronicle for the other; and he heard The Lancet mentioned in the list of papers read. For his part, however, he would rather that the poor man should have the newspaper in his cottage than that he should be sent to the public house to read it. He knew that at present the newspaper was one of the great attractions to take the poor man from home to visit the public house. If, therefore, the adoption of this proposition tended to keep the poor man at home it would afford a great moral aid to the improvement of the people. He had the authority of Dr. Johnson for saying, that the diffusion of knowledge amongst the people by means of newspapers was one of the most efficient modes by which knowledge could be imparted. He believed, however, that there had been a great deal of exaggeration on this subject. He was of opinion, that newspapers were not absolutely necessary for the diffusion 626 of knowledge, and he had heard that it had been stated by parties out of doors, that the diffusion of all useful knowledge was confined to newspapers. This was an exaggeration as great as that on the other side, which said that no useful knowledge could be obtained from newspapers. Newspapers afforded the means of diffusing political knowledge, and that of a very important character, but he denied that they constituted the chief means. There was knowledge of a higher character than could be conveyed in this way. There was a definition of knowledge by one whose word would carry much greater influence and authority than he could command—he meant Lord Bacon—which showed that it was of a higher nature than could be conveyed by means of the columns of a newspaper:—"Knowledge," said Lord Bacon, "is not a couch whereupon to rest a searching and restless spirit; or a terrace, for a wandering and variable mind to walk up and down with a fair prospect; or a tower of state for a proud mind to raise itself upon; or a fort or commanding ground for strife and contention; or a shop for profit or sale; but a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator, and the relief of man's estate." Suppose that he were for a moment, for argument's sake, merely to assent to the proposition of hon. Members opposite—suppose that he were for argument's sake, to assume that the free circulation of political knowledge, by means of newspapers, was an evil, and that restrictions ought to be put on this extended promulgation of that species of knowledge;—assuming this, he would still ask hon. Members—looking at the present state of the law, and the practices which went on in spite of it—whether they thought it would be possible to keep up the exclusive circulation of what they were pleased to consider as the only sound political knowledge, by the means of high-priced newspapers. Certainly not. On the contrary, it was well known that in the metropolis, and through all the ramifications of trade throughout the country, an active agency was constantly and necessarily kept in operation for the purpose of violating the law, and of extending throughout the community, not newspapers such as he contemplated, paying a stamp duty to Government, but newspapers paying no stamp duty, got up, printed, published, and distributed upon an or- 627 ganized plan, by parties who set out with the express purpose of violating the law, and who in consequence of the cheapness of their commodity succeeded but too generally, in usurping the place of newspapers paying the stamp duty. He was far from being opposed to the principle of cheap newspapers; but he was decidedly opposed to illegal newspapers, and to all violations of the law. He was opposed to them, in the first place, because the parties who were engaged in such practices were, necessarily, not persons fit or qualified to diffuse sound instruction among the people; for no man of honest principles could lend himself to practices involving the direct violation of the laws of his country. It was, however, a matter of certainty, that to a very large extent indeed, cheap publications of that character were diffused throughout the country, confided to the management of [persons who approached the subject with a full knowledge that they were violating the law, and subjecting themselves to fine and imprisonment; and, moreover, addressed to a market confined to a class of persons who were fully aware that the commodity purchased by them was an illegal one. This was a state of things which those who desired to keep up the character of the press must be most anxious to put an end to, but which was not to be put an end to, by retaining high-priced newspapers. He would just state to the House the extent to which this system had already gone. The total number of stamps taken out for English newspapers in the twelve months appeared from the returns to be thirty-six millions. Now, upon one single occasion, when the officers connected with the Stamp-office effected a seizure, they found, on the Thursday, an incomplete publication of an unstamped newspaper, which was to be given out on the Saturday, but which even on the Thursday, when incomplete, amounted to not fewer than forty thousand in number. Thus it appeared that one single unstamped newspaper had created for itself an annual circulation of upwards of two millions, being equal to one-eighteenth part of the whole circulation of all the stamped newspapers of the country. Such was the present condition of the unstamped press, and it was understood that the parties engaged in the traffic entertained every prospect of greatly extending the trade. 628 In reference to unstamped newspapers, he had been placed in a singularly unfortunate position, between the fires of two parties, one of which abused him for going too far, the other attacking him for not going far enough in his endeavours to repress this illegal traffic. Whenever the subject had been mooted he had been charged, and justly charged, if it were a charge, by Members on his own side of the House, with enforcing the law to the utmost extent against the violators of the Stamp Acts, and with having dealt out fine and imprisonment with too harsh a hand; while from the other side of the House he had been violently inveighed against for not enforcing the law to the utmost extent, and for not dealing out fine and imprisonment. He could only say, that it had been his endeavour by every possible means to assert the law and protect the honest trader, by putting in force all the enactments against the dishonest trader; but he had found it quite impossible effectually to put down the contraband trade. In addition to these he had had another party to deal with— a party most vigilant in their observation of the proceedings of Government—he alluded to the stamped press itself, who had every right to come to Government and say, "We pay all the duties imposed on us by the law, and thereby contribute largely to the financial resources of the country, and we therefore require of you that you equally enforce obedience to the law upon all our competitors." With these parties he had been in constant communication; and upon the first occasion they had complained that the efforts of Government to check the evil had not been sufficiently strenuous, he had put to them to suggest any mode conformable to law, by which they conceived the proceedings of the unstamped press could be checked both in town and country, but nothing had been pointed out adequate to the emergency. Again, after exerting every means in their power to repress this illegal trade Government applied to the law-officers of the Crown, stating what had been done, and asking their directions as to any further proceedings and were informed by these functionaries that they had already resorted to all the means afforded by the existing law for preventing the publication of unstamped newspapers. The law-officers of the Crown at the same time stated that the existing law was 629 altogether ineffectual to the purpose of putting an end to the unstamped papers. One of the greatest difficulties to which they were exposed was as to the proof of the printing. The law certainly laid it down that the names of the printer and publisher should be affixed to every paper, but there was no guard against such names being forgeries or altogether fictitious, and this species of fraud was committed every day. Every law which bore upon the printing, the publishing, and the distributing of unstamped newspapers had been enforced with that strictness which Government considered due to the law and to the honest trader, but though many individuals offending against the law had been punished, and many seizures made of the illegal publications, the fraudulent system had not been materially checked. On the contrary, the system had been encouraged in consequence of the sympathy which the persons punished succeeded in creating throughout the country in their behalf. Mr. Cleave, for instance, had been, for repeated violations of the law, four times fined and twice imprisoned, and what was the consequence? Why, no sooner was it known that he had been amerced in the penalties laid down by the Act, than throughout the country subscriptions were set on foot for the purpose of paying them off. Thus, as was the case also with Mr. Hetherington, not only was the law violated, but the party violating it was made the object of general sympathy and support. There had been prosecutions for printing, prosecutions for publishing, prosecutions for selling in the shop, and prosecutions for selling in the street, but all these efforts had failed to effect the desired result. Convictions had been obtained, imprisonment had been inflicted, and fines imposed on the persons convicted, much individual suffering had been the result, but it had attracted public sympathy and gave men reward for violating the law. Within a few months not less than 110 persons had been convicted and punished for selling unstamped newspapers in shops, and 300 persons for selling them in the streets, but all without producing any practical removal of the evil; for no sooner was one man put in prison for these illegal practices, than another was readily found to supply his place. The hon. Member for Surrey bad only to consult the records 630 of Kingston gaol to see how the evil had been felt in that part of the country, as well as everywhere else. Indeed, through the whole of the country, the circulation of unstamped newspapers was going rapidly forward, for the law, as it at present stood, was altogether inadequate to repress the practice. The question was, then, whether that state of things should be suffered to continue? Was there any man who would justify it, or say that newspapers ought not to be treated like other commodities, the high duties on which encouraged smuggling. A charge of remissness had been brought against Government by Members on the other side of the House; he might mention that a greater number of prosecutions had been brought forward by the present Government for violations of the law in this respect, than had been carried into effect during the time that the right hon. Member opposite, was at the head of the Administration. He did not mention this with any view to assume greater merit in this respect than was due to the former Administration, but merely in answer to those who asserted that it was the inefficient endeavours of the present Government to repress violations of the law which was the cause of the evil, and not the inefficiency of the law. But it might be said "We admit all this, we admit that the law is not sufficiently strong to meet the case; we admit that you have done all that lay in you for the purpose of enforcing the law; we admit the large accumulation of unstamped newspapers; but we tell you the remedy will not be found in the reduction of the duty, but in the increased severity of new enactments." He was not disposed to adopt that doctrine. He would not consent to take any steps towards increasing the severity of the law, in any case where he believed it would be altogether ineffectual to the purpose for which it was intended, and where he believed the same result would be obtained by other and better means. If they continued 100 per cent, duty upon newspapers, increased the provisions of the law, and added to the severity of its administration, he would fairly tell them, that with the system now existing—with the rapid power of printing —with the great anxiety on the part of the people to obtain the description of knowledge circulated in unstamped publications, they and their severe laws would not remove the evil complained of, so long 631 as they continued by a high tax an inducement to violate the law. He did not mean to say he was content with the existing law; neither did he come to that House under the false pretence of asking for a reduction of the stamp-duty to 1d., without having adequate means to propose to collect that 1d. This was a matter they would have to discuss when the Bill should be more immediately before the House. But he begged to tell hon. Gentlemen opposite, that there would be no provision inserted in that Bill by which the Press would be in the least degree fettered, though care was taken that, if Parliament agreed to reduce the duty as he proposed, full means should be given to Government of enforcing the duty which remained. Was it not their duty to protect the Press of the country, which paid so large an amount of contribution to the revenue, against the invasion of those parties who paid none, and continued to maintain this unequal and unjust ad vantage? He should like to know, if in a question of revenue of an ordinary character, it were stated, that the existence of such a high duty as that upon newspapers was most unjust., and that a diminution of it was absolutely necessary to protect existing interests and prevent a violation of the law, if such a statement would be controverted. He was sure no one would attempt to deny that such a duty ought to be repealed; and he thought it most expedient that the House should pronounce an opinion on the subject with reference to the threat on the one hand of the absolute necessity for a total repeal of the duty; and, on the other, to the threat of all the evil consequences that were to attend the opening of this branch of mercantile speculation, for so he considered it. He appeared there to argue against the maintenance of a stamp-duty of 4d., and in justification of retaining a stamp-duty of 1d; and he would now proceed to state the grounds upon which he made the latter proposition. In the first place he was maintaining the old duty—he was reducing it to the amount at which it stood so long back as the reign of Queen Anne; and the progress of it had been thus:—From the accession of George 3rd, in 1760, to 1776, it had been 1d.; from that period to 1789, 1½d.; up to 1797, 2d.; and from that up to 1815, 2d.; in which year it was raised to its present amount, 4d. Now, he would say, that if his proposition were to be more 632 enlarged, it would be impracticable. He believed to the total repeal of the stamp-duty on newspapers the majority of that House would not consent, and therefore did he prefer making a proposition in which he had been led to hope he should be supported by a majority. But, besides that, he held they had a right to 1d. stamp, and that it would be essential for the best interests of the Press itself, inasmuch as it would afford to newspapers a free circulation by post. He would observe, in passing, that no proposition he had ever heard made for establishing a posting duty had appeared to him more desirable in itself, or more favourable to the Press, than that which he now made. But he would go further in reference to the present conjuncture of affairs, and here he would make an appeal to hon. Members who were so eager for the total abolition of the duty—he would go further, and say, that if he were to propose its entire abolition, he should give up his proposal for a reduction of the duty on paper, which he had made, not only with reference to newspapers, but literature in general. He considered it infinitely better to make a partial reduction upon the newspaper stamp-duty, and also to reduce the duty on paper, than to extend the whole amount to the reduction of the stamp-duty upon newspapers. With regard to the general argument, that this was a tax upon knowledge, would those who thought so deny that books were elements of knowledge as well as newspapers? Would they deny that he was doing justice to literature generally by making a reduction upon paper? They could not deny that; and he could tell them, that unless he was able to retain something upon newspapers, he would not be able to reduce the duty upon paper generally. Now, his hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex, whom he did not see in his place, was one of those who objected to the 1d. stamp, and yet that hon. Gentleman was the very individual who, in 1825, brought forward a proposition for reducing the stamp-duty on newspapers, not to 1d., but to 2d. On that occasion he entreated the attention of the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to his proposal, and in general terms said to that right hon. Gentleman, "that he would guarantee him against any loss to the revenue by a reduction of the duty from 4d. to 2d.; and that so anxious was he on the subject, he would almost become 633 personally responsible, if at the end of the year any loss had accrued." The Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day however said, that although he would be glad to accept of the hon. Member's guarantee, yet that, when they had to deal with 450,000l. of the public revenue he should wish to have a security of another description. The proposition of the hon. Member for Middlesex was accordingly resisted. On a later occasion—in the course of last Session—an hon. Friend of his, the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. Edward Lytton Bulwer), had brought forward a proposition, which he very powerfully supported by a speech which those who heard it would not soon forget—the arguments upon the subject being most powerfully stated. What was the proposition then moved by the hon. Member, seconded by the hon. Member for Middlesex, and cheered by so many Members of the House? That proposition was to reduce the duty to 1d., allowing that penny for the circulation of the paper by the post. The proposition he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer') had, at the time, expressed his regret, that he could not accede to, by reason of the then state of the finances, but he had also stated, that he would take the earliest opportunity himself of bringing forward such a proposition. He trusted that the House would admit, that he had now redeemed his pledge. He had brought forward the distinct and specific proposition which the hon. Member for Lincoln had expressed his desire to see carried into effect. Yet now, because he took that course—because he had kept his word —because he had done that which the hon. Member had endeavoured to do, not only the hon. Member, but many of those hon. Members who had supported him on the occasion alluded to, had attacked him in a most undisguised, in a most unremiting, he would say, in a most cruel manner, had charged him with forgetting every promise, and disregard of the public interest, although he had not only done that which he was expected to do, but had proposed a considerable reduction of the duty on paper. He had done this, not, he might without offence say, because they had asked him to do it, but because he considered it just and right, and calculated to promote the public advantage; because he considered it due to the station he had the honour of filling; because, having pledged himself to the 634 principle last year, he felt it right to ac-upon his pledge this year, and that the financial circumstances of the country were such as to admit of the reduction. The change which had taken place in the political condition of the country made it essential to communicate to the people sound political knowledge and information. He would say, that the security of that House, living, as it did, in the affections of the people—of the Government, possessing, as it did, the confidence of the people—and of the Monarchy, reigning, as it did, and as he trusted it ever would, in the hearts of the people, depended upon the diffusion of sound political knowledge. They had already given the people a 10l. political franchise; they had given, with municipal institutions, new political rights to inhabitant householders, and would they, ought they, or could they, now withhold from the people the means of judging of the passing events of the day? He had now an authority, by the publication of the votes of that House, in his favour. That was a question which had been much discussed and argued against; and yet on a second occasion, after it was agreed to, it was thought right to carry the principle further, and publish the name and vote of every hon. Member on the minutes. All this implied, that it was good and safe that what was known there should also be known elsewhere, and that what concerned the public in the Government of the country, should be judged of by the public through the medium of the Press. Admitting, then, this principle to be just, would it not be better to communicate knowledge to the people through the medium of the stamped Press, which was responsible to the country and the King, than to trust to the construction that might be put on all public proceedings by those men who were not recognised by the law, and whose illegal publications were largely circulated because easily obtained? One penny duty was, he thought, no more than might fairly be charged for the advantage of a free circulation. It would equalise the whole of the Press, it would raise its character, and it would enable those parties who were ready and anxious to give religious instruction to the people to combine it with knowledge of a political nature. There had been many pressing applications made to him on the subject of giving religious and moral instruction to the people, and 635 in favour of his proposition. The hon. Member for Kent was aware of that. Persons who were desirous of diffusing knowledge of that description had hitherto been deterred by the enormous amount of stamp-duty. It was his fate to read much of the unstamped Press; indeed, some persons were kind enough frequently to send him packages of unstamped papers, with a view to prove to him the extent at which the smuggling had reached; and this he could say, that according as it had augmented in circulation, it had improved in qualify. Since the first appearance of unstamped publications to the present moment their character had gradually altered, the reason of which was to be found in the fact of a wide circulation. A publication of limited circulation would be found to be supported by a particular class, for which it was prepared by exciting their passions and flattering their prejudices; but if they came to a largely circulated paper, they would find it must suit itself to the taste of the people, under restricted circumstances. He appealed to the hon. Members who had supported the proposition of the hon. Member for Lincoln, to assist him in carrying out that proposition. He did not think it would be just to repeal the whole amount of the duty, and he was anxious to make the relief as general as possible by also reducing the duty on paper. These were his grounds for reducing the stamp-duty to Id., and for retaining that 1d. He hoped also he had shown, that the reduction of duty proposed by the hon. Member for Northamptonshire was not one which would lead to the good consequences which he anticipated. That a reduction on soap would give relief to the agricultural interests he was sure no Gentleman in his senses could conceive. As to an increase in the consumption of that article, he had reason, by experience of the past, to knew that such would not be the result; and from the argument of the hon. Member for Surrey, that all Excise restrictions would be removed by the proposition, he entirely dissented, for there should be an Excise law to collect 1d., as well as collect to a larger amount. He therefore asked the friends of the Exchequer to protect the revenues of the State—the friends of the law to assist him in maintaining its authority, and preventing its violation—and the friends of the institutions of the country to put an end to such a state of things, as he had de- 636 scribed—not to allow the mode of communication to be through those who had been punished as the violators and evaders of the law, but through a legalised medium. Prosecutions and imprisonments were still going on day after day, bringing odium on the law itself, and he asked those who were desirous of protecting the due administration of justice to put an end to this system by supporting his proposition. The very offenders and criminals to whom he had alluded had become objects of universal sympathy. Subscriptions had been entered into, and the fines which were imposed had been paid by the contributions of the people; so that it was, in fact, a system which enlisted the sympathies of mankind against the law, and it behoved every good subject to endeavour to put an end to it. He was glad that he had an opportunity of defending his proposition, and it was his determination to adhere to it.
said, he did not rise in a spirit of either personal or party opposition to his Majesty's Ministers, but simply to consider the abstract merits of the proposition before them: to discuss the question whether, having a specific amount of surplus revenue to dispose of, it was more consistent with the general interests of the country to apply that disposable revenue in reduction of the duty on soap, or in reduction of the duty on newspapers. To this question he should strictly confine himself, without entering into any discussion as to the proposed penny duty. The simple question was, whether they should not substitute for the right hon. Gentleman's proposition to reduce the stamp duty on newspapers, the hon. Gentleman's proposition to reduce that on soap. There was, perhaps, some little difficulty in explaining clearly why a preference should be given to the reduction of one duty instead of another, but there were certain principles which ought to govern the reduction, and these principles were so clear and so obviously just that few would venture to deny them. The first great principle was, that in effecting your reductions you should reduce that duty first, a diminution or repeal of which would effect the greatest proportion of benefit to the greatest extent—to consult the advantage of the whole community in preference to the advantage of a part. Another principle was this, that you should continue the burden as much as possible upon the luxuries and diminish it as much as possi- 637 ble upon the necessaries of life. Looking at the question before them, and bearing in mind these two principles of legislation, he was prepared to say, that he must give his opinion in favour of the proposition of his hon. Friend near him. Before he proceeded to discuss the particular question before them, he would just advert to a point touched upon by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. The right hon. Gentleman had stated, that the revenue was competent to bear the charge of the reduction of the stamp duties on newspapers, but not competent to bear the charge of a reduction of the duties on soap, because, as he said, he did not anticipate from a reduction of the duty on soap that corresponding increased consumption of the article which was essential to make up for the loss derived to the revenue from the decreased duty. Now the Report of the Excise Commissioners gave quite a contrary opinion, for they distinctly stated that any additional decrease in the duty on soap would lead to a corresponding increase in the consumption of the article, putting Ireland out of the question. The hon. Member for Surrey had accurately stated, that the former reduction in the soap duties had not been sufficient to enable the fair dealer to cope with the contraband dealer, but this object would be fully effected by the additional reduction now proposed. The consumption of soap had only increased since that reduction, in what he would call the rural districts of England. In London it had decreased. The year before the reduction took place, the quantity of soap brought to charge in the metropolis was 3,290,000lbs. The quantity brought to charge the year after the reduction had so far diminished as to show a decrease of half a million. In Scotland, the year before the reduction took place, the quantity of soap brought to charge was 11,300,000lbs. The year after the reduction the quantity was only 10,400,000lbs: thus, in both cases, clearly showing, that the reduction had by no means been sufficient to defeat the smuggler. In the rural districts of England, where there were not the same facilities to the smuggler to obtain improved material, some slight increase had taken place. An additional reduction of the duty was absolutely necessary in order to put the fair trader on terms at least of equality with the fraudulent trader. When the right hon. Gentleman contended that the reduction of the duty did not in this instance increase the consumption he 638 should have taken the peculiar circumstances of the case into consideration. There was no occasion to go back to the time of Queen Anne for precedents. Since then everything connected with the manufacture had changed. It did not now require a bulky material in the shape of an alkali, which could not be brought into the premises without creating the suspicion of the neighbourhood and the vigilance of the excise officers. The improvements which had taken place in chemical science had given to the illicit manufacturer the means of introducing into his premises concentrated alkalies, in forms which were well calculated to elude suspicion, to evade the utmost vigilance, and to give the smuggler every possible facility of escaping detection. On the ground, therefore, of justice to the fair trader, and the maintenance of the integrity of the law, he thought the House would agree with him that a further reduction of the soap duty was a matter of the greatest importance. Now, with respect to the comparative merits of the two reductions proposed—the Chancellor of the Exchequer had contended, in the first place, that soap yielded an increasing duty and newspapers a decreasing one, and, therefore, according to a generally admitted rule in financial matters, the reduction should be made on the decreasing duty and not on the increasing one. With regard to the increasing duty on soap, it had already been shown that although there was a trifling increase on the whole, yet that in London, Scotland, and the large towns, there had been a decrease. With respect to the duty on newspapers, what had the right hon. Gentleman done? Why, he had taken as his standard the stamp duty of 1831, and with that he had compared the stamp duty of 1835. "The newspaper stamp duty of 1831," said the right hon. Gentleman, "yielded a net revenue of 483,000l., and of 1835, only 450,000l.; and therefore it was a decreasing duty." But was the decrease such a continuing decrease as to justify this argument? If they looked to the average annual duty at successive periods of five years they would then come to a directly opposite conclusion. The average of the five years, ending 1825, was 398,000l.; of the five years ending 1830, 413,000l.; and of the five years ending 1835, 464,000l.; showing a continuing and a considerable increase of duty. But when the right hon. Gentleman selected the year 1831 as the period from which the 639 stamps had in some degree declined, did he not recollect the degree of political excitement which then prevailed in this country? Did he forget the anxiety of all men at that period to obtain the earliest information of the proceedings of that House — proceedings of the highest interest, and which continued during a far greater portion of this year than was ever known before? Did the right hon. Gentleman forget that events of the greatest importance were daily occurring on the Continent, events which excited the strongest feelings of anxiety in the breasts of men of all parties; and, when, consequently, the information afforded by the press was more eagerly sought after, and its circulation necessarily higher than at any other period; and was it fair to take this period of unusual excitement as a fair criterion on which to found an average. It was a great mistake to imagine that the newspaper duty was a decreasing one. Allowing for the extraordinary circulation of the time alluded to, it had ever since been an increasing duty. In the year 1834 the gross produce was 507,373l., and in 1835 521,909l., showing an increase, and not a decrease. This was a sufficient proof of the unfairness of taking an extraordinary year as an ordinary standard. They all remembered the year 1813, and the public anxiety to obtain the earliest information of the great events then transacting in the theatre of Europe. In that year the newspaper duty rose to a higher amount than it ever before attained. He was not now stating what was merely his own opinion, but he appealed to what had happened on former occasions, with respect to the stamp- duty on newspapers, in support of his argument. The history of the year 1813 must be well remembered—the House must know how the anxiety of the public was kept alive by the great events which occurred in Europe during that year. Now what was the fact in 1813? The newspaper stamp duty rose in that year to a height that it had never before attained. It amounted to 3,94,000l.; and what was the consequence? In the succeeding year, from that amount it fell down to 363,000l. —a reduction nearly equivalent to that which took place between 1831 an i 1834, and greater than that which took place between 1831 and 1835. The right hon. Gentleman was not accurate in saying that the duty was a continually increasing duty. He trusted, he had satisfactorily accounted for the decrease up to the last year; it 640 was, at the present moment, an increasing duty. It was his firm opinion, that the newspaper stamp duty would go on gradually rising. His right hon. Friend said, that this was not an agricultural question, and he agreed with him, that it was not purely an agricultural question; but he agreed also with his hon. Friend near him, in so far as he said it was a question which affected the interest of every man engaged in agriculture on the one hand, however humble his station, and, on the other hand, that it also affected every man who was a manufacturer, however low or humble his station might be. The reduction of the duty on soap would affect every class of the community. Whatever the station of the parties, whether rich or poor, it would affect them all, but more particularly the poor, because to them it was not a source of comfort merely, it was essential to their health. And it affected not only those who had attained a certain age, but the benefit would be felt equally by the oldest and the youngest—it was as essential to infancy as to age, because it was necessary to health. Every reduction of the duty on soap contributed to the increase of the comfort, the health, and the enjoyment of every member of the community. Now, could they say the same of the newspaper stamp duty? Were not newspapers limited to a certain class? He found by the return of the number of stamps issued, that there were not more than about 300,000 persons who took in newspapers. The number, then, who took in newspapers, was the number who would be directly affected by the relief resulting from a reduction of the duty, and thus the relief would be limited to the 300,000. The soap duty, he had said, affected every member of the community; a reduction in that, therefore, instead of relieving only 300,000 persons, would give relief to fourteen millions of the population. He did not mean to say, that not more than 300,000 persons read newspapers—he only spoke of those who took them in, and he contended, that only they would be materially affected by the reduction. He knew very well, that every newspaper that was taken was read by a considerable number, and viewing the subject in that way, the relief would be equivalent to a twentieth part of the whole. The difference was between the twentieth part of a penny and 4½d., and 3d. His right hon. Friend said, the duty on soap had been 641 already reduced, and others must take their turn; therefore he now proposed to relieve the newspapers. It was true, that in 1833 there was repealed half the duty on soap, but was nothing done for newspapers on that occasion? Was not the duty on advertisements reduced in the same year from 3s. 6d. to 1s. 6d.? That, was a great advantage to the newspaper proprietors. There was at that time a great deal of competition in advertisements in other channels, and the reduction enabled the proprietors of newspapers to reduce the price of advertisements, or to obtain more extended information than they obtained before the reduction of the duty. But the right hon. Gentleman told them, that in the present Session, for the further relief of the newspaper proprietors, he intended to repeal half the duty on paper, and the amount of that would be something considerable on every newspaper. Was that no relief? Bearing in mind the reduction of the duty on advertisements, he would ask, was the right hon. Gentleman justified in saying, that newspapers had had no indulgence shown to them? Had all the indulgence been shown to the manufacturers of soap? He viewed the two questions as standing equally before them, and he would ask the House, which duty ought they to repeal? He approved of the principle, that they should reduce first the taxes on the necessaries of life; but newspapers, in his opinion, came more properly under the head of luxuries. His right hon. Friend said, he wished to see the newspaper in the poorest cottage, and he was himself one of those who would not withhold from the humbler classes the instruction which they might derive from newspapers. But did his right hon. Friend imagine, that the reduction of the price of the newspaper from 1d. to 5d. would have the effect he desired? When they bore in mind the amount of the labourer's wages, did they believe that he would afford even a weekly newspaper, though the price should be reduced to 4d. That class of individuals were in the habit of associating for the purpose of reading the newspapers in common. A newspaper was generally taken in by the master whom they served; having been used by him, it went to his servants, and from them it found its way to the labourers; and thus the information which newspapers afforded was diffused amongst the population. The effect, 642 then, of the reduction of the duty would be to relieve the master. If the newspaper were taken in at a public-house, the publican would gain the benefit, and no allowance would be made to the poor man, because the reduction was so small an amount that it would not be divisible. The greater part of the community, then, would derive no benefit from the reduction of the duty on newspapers. His right hon. Friend said, that his proposition would have the effect of putting an end to a species of smuggling. On this part of the subject he would appeal to the Report of the Excise Commissioners. "Non meus hic sermo." Speaking of the reduction of the duty on soap, they said, they had no doubt it would materially reduce the smuggling that went on in that article. His right hon. Friend applied the principle to the reduction of the duty on newspaper stamps as a cure for the smuggling, but he must dispute that position. His right hon. Friend said, that there were parties who managed to undersell the daily press, by evading the stamp-duty, and he proposed to give some additional advantage to the daily press by reducing the amount of the duty. The duty, however, in this case, did not operate as it did in the case of spirits, where, if they repealed the duty, they put an end to the illicit dealing which resulted from the power of the smuggler to undersell the fair trader. He maintained that the power to undersell would continue even when his right hon. Friend had repealed his twopences on the stamps. What was the nature of the contest carried on with the daily press? It was the contest of men who went to no expense, against men. who went to great expense, in providing the article which they offered to the public. The editor of a London journal went to an enormous expense to procure intelligence. He incurred a very great expense, if he might say so without being out of order, to obtain accurate reports of what occurred in this House. He went to a still greater expense for foreign intelligence; he had to establish foreign correspondents—expresses anticipating the arrival of the post brought him intelligence rom abroad. These were amongst the expensive arrangements that were made to secure early information to meet the wishes of those who look in his paper. Such, then, constituted the real tax: which the morning papers had to pay. Talk of 643 the twopenny stamp in comparison with these expenses, why, it was as nothing! And the man who edited the paper, taking the parts and information which his contemporary, who paid for them, had been to such an expense in purchasing, must ever come into the market on terms so advantageous, that as a set-off against them the amount of the stamp-duty was insignificant. When the duty was repealed would there not be the same attempts to get information, he might almost say, at no charge at all? The right hon. Gentleman had told them of the difficulty that had been experienced in the attempts which had been made to repress the unstamped newspapers. Would he be able to protect that press which paid for information, against that press which did not? Would he be able to prevent information obtained by The Morning Chronicle or The Times, at a great expense, from being made available by the publishers of the penny newspapers, while the others were published at 4d. or 5d.? and what would be the result if he could not prevent it? He would not say, that the daily newspapers would be ruined by the curtailment of their profits; but he would call the attention of the House to the more fatal consequences that would ensue to the general interests of the country. The editors of the present respectable papers, not able to compete with their antagonists, would be compelled to forego obtaining that information which was now so accurately given; the press generally would be reduced to this—they would no longer be able to give accurate information of what fell from hon. Members in this House, or of other events of great interest with the public. He feared that they would in this way lower the general tone of the press of the country, and prevent it from being the channel for the dissemination of useful information. He begged to warn the friends to the dissemination of knowledge amongst the people against lowering the tone of the press of this country. When he compared the daily press of this country with the newspapers of other countries that came before him, he confessed he was proud of its superiority. He saw that subjects were discussed in it on one side and the other with the greatest ability. Sometimes, it must be admitted, the daily papers yielded too much to the excitement which existed, but, generally speaking, they were distin- 644 guished by great judgment and temper. When he looked to the press of foreign countries, he found it occupied with long disquisitions on theatrical exhibitions and other things interesting to the people of those countries; but such matters possessed comparatively little interest for the people of England. When he looked at the newspapers of America, which were referred to as a model of what newspapers ought to be, he must confess he saw in the newspapers of England a superiority in the character, the style, and the manner of discussing political questions, which convinced him that if they had not the advantage of a low amount of duty, they had, nevertheless, some other advantages of a most important nature, which they derived from the amount of the duty, and their other press regulations. He was sorry, then, to find a measure introduced, such as, in his opinion, would tend materially to lower the character of the press, by causing the proprietors of the respectable portion to forego the expenses for information, which he believed to be essential to the proper instruction of the people through the medium of the newspapers. Looking at the two duties, he would say, that the repeal of the one would confer a great advantage on the mass of the people, whilst the other would confer only a limited benefit on a limited portion. The one would contribute to the health and add to the domestic enjoyments of the people, the other would give a small advantage to those who read newspapers. Under these circumstances, he had no hesitation in preferring the repeal of the duty on soap to the repeal of the duty on newspapers.
§ Mr. Charles Buller
thought, that the right hon. Gentleman had shown very little acquaintance with the press of other countries. He was as little inclined as any man to give the palm of superiority to any other nation, but he should blush for our literature if he thought it as much inferior as he considered the daily press of this country was inferior to that of France. He would say that, at the present moment, there was no person of high political and literary character connected with the press of this country, who could at all compare in this respect with that distinguished writer M. Chateaubriand. The right hon. Gentleman opposite feared the character of the press of this country would be lowered, and he contended that there would 645 be the same piracy as before. He said, the question was not the amount of duty, but the expense of acquiring information. Why, was the right hon. Gentleman aware of the existence of evening papers in this country, and that those evening papers copied almost entirely their information from the morning papers? Those who now dealt illicitly, after the reduction of the duty would no longer have the sympathies of the whole country in their behalf. This was a question to which the House should give its best attention. They might, enforce what stamp duty they pleased; but they would not be able to enforce it while the feelings and opinions of the people continued the same as at present. Many hon. Gentlemen, it appeared to him, supposed that those who were anxious for the abolition of the stamp duty on newspapers, were so because by that means they hoped they might be able with the greater facility to distribute political tracts amongst the people. Those who supposed so, did him and others very great injustice, for their object was not to circulate political tracts, not to circulate political opinions, but to circulate facts connected with knowledge. It was not to circulate the Whig, Radical, or Tory doctrines, but to put the people in possession of whatever occurred in that House, or in any other arena of politics. He believed that none had suffered more than hon. Gentlemen opposite from the ignorance of the people. Experience ought to have proved to them that it was not their interest to keep the people in darkness. The excitement of the people was owing frequently to the exaggerations of falsehoods, and which were only credible on account of the ignorance of the people. That ignorance was to be attributed to the people not having information afforded to them on cheaper terms. Now, when the people decided respecting the Reform question, there was a great deal of exaggeration prevailing as to the defects of the system. He granted it—it was quite true, that there was that exaggeration. One reason, for instance, for the people thinking that Reform was necessary was, that in one part of the country they believed that the Archbishop of Canterbury had 80,000l. a year. In his own county it was believed that the Dowager of a Peer's family, who had not even received one farthing of the public money, had a pension of 12,000l. a-year. This was considered to be another reason for reform. These were the exaggerations that prevailed, and it was hon. 646 Gentlemen opposite who produced the state of things. Now he should say for himself and others, that Radicals or Reformers, or whatever else they might be, they knew the facts to be otherwise; they read the newspapers, and they knew how absurd such tales were. Those who opposed the circulation of cheap knowledge, acted most inconsistently; for they trusted the poor man with the franchise, and they would not give to him the knowledge of how he ought to exercise it. And yet they said those men were stupid, when their minds could be influenced and their actions decided by such arguments. Why, he said to such persons, "It is your own fault if they were wrong, and decided against you." He did not mean that hon. Gentlemen on the other side could gain much from the information of the people. They might depend upon it, that the power of public opinion would destroy all the abuses which those hon. Gentlemen sought to sustain. The question, then, was, whether these abuses should be removed by a well-instructed, moderate, and virtuous people; or whether they should be torn down by a fanatical and ill-instructed mob. The right hon. Gentleman stated, that newspapers were a mere luxury. He thought that when the right hon. Gentlemen said so, he connected them with all the agreeable associations connected with the break-fast-table. The question now he believed to be this—whether knowledge was a luxury or a necessary for the people? hon. Gentlemen opposite insisted it was a luxury; he, on the contrary, said there was nothing it was more necessary the people should have; and any Government would find to its cost how wrong it would act, when it sought to deprive the people of that knowledge which they deemed to be their dearest and most cherished acquisition. He wished now to say a few words upon another tax, between which and the stamp-tax there was a competition. He must say, that the right hon. Gentleman and other Members on that side of the House did him extreme injustice, if they supposed the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer were about to take a portion from the soap tax that he should oppose that proposition. If that were the only question before the House he would vote for it; but the question was, which of the two taxes should be taken off? He never had been Chancellor of the Exchequer, and did not know how a gentleman in that situation felt. But, if he were 647 Chancellor of the Exchequer he should think that one great merit in a tax would be that he was able to get it. That single circumstance would be superior in his mind to many important questions. Another thing was, in which case was there the most smuggling? In which case would the alteration be the most beneficial? In the very first place, he did not see that there would be any great effect from the reduction of the soap duty. Taking the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer upon the Excise Report, it appeared that the number of pounds of soap used by each person was sis and a half a year, so that the right hon. Gentleman's proposition to reduce the duty a-halfpenny a pound would be to give 3½d. a year to each individual in the country.
It was contended, however, that this reduction of one halfpenny would put down smuggling, though it appeared that the reduction of a penny halfpenny which had taken place already had not been successful in effecting that object. The reduction of this halfpenny, it was said, would effect wonders, which the reduction of the three halfpence had not been able to accomplish. "Take off this peculiar halfpenny," said the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in showman's phrase, "and you shall see what you shall see;" but, as he was not in the showman's box, he must be excused for not believing in the marvels. All that they had to judge of as to the effect of the reduction of three-halfpence which had already taken place—all they could judge of the effect of taking off the halfpenny—was by the words that had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite. As it became expedient to turn out one Ministry or another some new plan was always proposed for the relief of the agricultural interest. They now proposed to take the tax off soap, but that would turn out for the benefit of the Russians. He supposed that Russia supplied one-third of the tallow that was consumed in this country, and that was always sufficient to regulate the market. Now if they took off this tax without imposing a tax on Russian tallow, they would be merely reducing the tax for the benefit of the Russians. He was told, upon good authority, that when the reduction on soap and candles took place, some time ago, the first evidence of the effect of it was in a letter from a Russian broker, advising his correspondent to keep back his tallow, for the effect of the reduction of the duty would be to cause a rise in the market. If a tax was to be taken off he 648 contended that it ought to be taken off for the benefit of the English agriculturist, and it should be taken off in such a way as that every class of agriculturists would have a participation in the advantage of the reduction. If the question was to be between the two classes of agriculturists, those who represented the tillage interest would have claims far beyond those who represented the pasture lands. He did not support the repeal of stamp duties from party or factious motives, but from a desire to promote morality and order amongst the people. Nothing was easier than to answer argument by laughter, and it was a species of discussion in which those on the opposite side were eminently felicitous. Let them come forward, and show that it was for the interest of a great nation like this to keep the people in ignorance, and, having shown this, then it would be incumbent on them to show how they could reverse the proceedings of past years, and again reduce the people to their former state of political thraldom.
§ Lord Sandon
referred to the report of the Excise Commissioners respecting the reduction of the duty on soap, to show that it had not the effect ascribed to it by the hon. Member for Liskeard. In the course of the observations made by the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, not one word was said by that right hon. Gentleman of the manner in which his plan for equalising the duties on Irish newspapers was received, nor was the House told of the number of public meetings called in that country to exclaim against it. It was his opinion as to the soap duty, that its reduction would be beneficial to the country at large. By repealing that duty it would get rid of a great many vexatious Excise regulations. With respect to the press he felt bound to say this, that he was greatly surprised to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman say, that newspapers which were inferior in price to the English newspapers were superior to them in talent. One who had travelled recently in America did not concur with him in that opinion, for he declared that every vulgar fool who could call names, might set himself up as a newspaper editor:—"Our newspaper and periodical press is bad enough. Its sins against propriety cannot be justified, and ought not to be defended. But its violence is weakness, its liberty restraint, and even its atrocities are virtues, when compared with that system of brutal and 649 ferocious outrages which distinguishes the press in America. Newspapers are so cheap in the United States, that the generality even of the lowest order can afford to purchase them. They therefore depend for support on the most ignorant class of the people. Everything they contain must be accommodated to the taste and apprehension of men who labour daily for their bread, and are of course indifferent to refinement either of language or reasoning. With such readers, whoever 'peppers the highest is surest to please.' Strong words take place of strong arguments, and every vulgar booby who can call names and procure a set of types upon credit may set up as an editor, with a fair prospect of success. In England it is fortunately still different. Newspapers being expensive, the great body of their supporters are to be found among people of comparative wealth and intelligence, though they practically circulate among the poorer classes in abundance sufficient for all purposes of information. The public, whose taste they are obliged to consult, is, therefore, of a higher order; and the consequence of this arrangement is apparent in the vast superiority of talent they display, and in the wider range of knowledge and argument which they bring to bear on all questions of public interest. How long this may continue it is impossible to predict, but I trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer will weigh well the consequences before he ventures to take off, or even materially to diminish, the tax on newspapers. He may rely upon it, that bad as the state of the public press may be, it. cannot be improved by any legislative measure. Remove the stamp duty, and the consequences will inevitably be, that there will be two sets of newspapers—one for the rich and educated, the other for the poor and ignorant. England, like America, will be inundated by productions, contemptible in point of talent, but not the less mischievous on that account. The check of enlightened opinion—the only efficient one—on the press will be annihilated, the standard of knowledge and morals will be lowered; and let it, above all, be remembered that this tax, if removed, can never after be imposed." Such was the testimony of the author of [...]nd Manners in America as to the state of the American press, and no opinion would be more decisive. One argument used by the right hon. Gentleman for the 650 reduction of the newspaper stamp duties was, that the papers should be protected against smugglers. It was his opinion that the right hon. Gentleman would have to make the same struggle against the smuggler with the newspaper that cost 5d., that he would have with a newspaper that cost 7d. This was, he considered, made as one of the many already made in the dangerous course of concession which Ministers were pursuing. The general feeling, he believed, was not at all so occupied upon this subject as some supposed it to be. It was like many others, in which petitions were procured, as they could be procured upon any other subject, they showed the anxiety of some individuals, but not the feelings of the people. He believed that the country would be more gratified if the manufacture of one of the first necessaries of life were relieved, and the article itself could be procured at a cheaper rate. The manufacture of that article was now arrested by Excise regulations, and which regulations it was necessary to maintain against smugglers. The reduction of the duty would be followed by the removal of these oppressive Excise regulations, and the consequences would be, that they should not see the article sold at a cheaper rate, but the foundation would be laid for an export trade most advantageous to this country.
§ Mr. Buckingham
observed, that a great portion of the crime which prevailed in the country originated in ignorance. The people had not information, and although they had a vast body of laws, the people were not informed of them. Another pregnant evil which resulted from the present system was, that it was in the beer-shop and the gin-shop only that the operative could obtain the perusal of a newspaper. With regard to the counter-proposition of the evening, he was not disposed to deny the advantages of having a cleanly population, but he thought it much more important that they should be instructed, for they would then soon find but the value of cleanliness themselves. As long as the present heavy tax was imposed upon newspapers, an enormous circulation was required before the publishers were repaid, and the consequence was, that they had to pander to ail sorts of tastes in order to find sufficient readers; there was foreign news for one class, scandal for another, abuse for the third. The poorer classes of persons were per- 651 fectly astonished to see bow the rich could tolerate the abuse and private scandal which loaded the periodical pages of the present day. With respect to the present proposal for the reduction of the newspaper stamp duty, he must be permitted to say, that for his own part he should rather prefer a graduated ad valorem duty, extending as low as a farthing on a penny paper, which of course should be proportionably smaller and lighter than one published at a shilling, and rated accordingly. Under such an arrangement as this, newspapers could be provided, adapted to the means of every class of society, and the postage would be paid upon them in proportion to their bulk and weight. Having thrown out this suggestion, he must admit, that under all circumstances, the proposition of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer would, undoubtedly, lead to much good, and he should support it.
§ Mr. Handley
wished to say a few words in explanation of the reasons which should induce him to vote against the proposition of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Sir C. Knighlley). He begged to assure the Committee that he did not consider that proposition as conferring any been upon the farmer, even if it were carried to the full extent recommended by that hon. Member. In saying this, he might, he thought, lay claim to sincerity, for he had always been a friend to the agricultural interest, and he had never allowed himself to be influenced by party or political considerations in delaying to bring forward any motion, which, in his opinion, would tend to its relief. Upon a former occasion the motion which he (Mr. Handley) had brought forward on this subject, was accompanied with a proposition for an increased duty on foreign tallow: but while it was his object, as he had frankly owned at the time, to confer relief upon the agricultural interest, he did not consider himself justified in taxing the whole community for the benefit of a particular interest without offering them some advantage as an equivalent: and he had therefore proposed the Repeal of the Soap Tax—a tax which he considered extremely objectionable. He was glad on that occasion, to hear his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, give him a promise that he would, as soon as possible, endeavour to relax those shackies, to which, of all manufacturers, 652 the soap manufacturer was peculiarly subjected. But the hon. Member for Northamptonshire appeared in his (Mr. Handley's)opinion, to have taken only, if he might use the expression, the husk of his (Mr. Handley's) proposition, and to have left the kernel behind: he had adopted that part of it only which offered compensation to the public for the relief to the agricultural interest contemplated by the other part, of it, and then he called it "a been to the farmer." Of the whole amount of tallow manufactured in this country, only 25,000 tons were used in the manufacture of soap. It might indeed be said, that the quantity would increase. It might be increased, but unquestionably not by the proposition of the hon. Member for Northamptonshire. He proposed to reduce the duty on hard soap to 1½d., and on soft soap to a 1¼d. per lb. Did he not know, that into the composition of the latter description of soap, not one atom of tallow entered? Since the reduction effected by the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the duty on farm oils, they had formed the chief ingredient in the manufacture of the cheaper kind of soap. With reference to the tax upon newspapers, he (Mr. Handley) had unquestionably, upon a former occasion, said it was not the tax which he should have selected for reduction if the choice rested with him. He said so still. But, at the same time, he was bound to say, that his opinion on this point had been somewhat altered of late. The hon. Member for Northamptonshire had not shown that by reducing the duty on Soap, in the manner he proposed, he would remove any of those grievous restrictions of which the manufacturers of that article so much complained; and, on the whole, he (Mr. Handley) did not think, that for the sacrifice he proposed to make of the revenue, he had offered any equivalent either to the public or the Minister. He should vote for the original motion.
§ Mr. Roebuck
rose, amidst loud cries of "Divide," "Divide," "Withdraw." The present question, said the hon. and learned Member, was not a question of revenue, but a question of party politics. It was a part of the politics of the party on the other side of the House to keep up that despotic rule, the fruits of which they had so long enjoyed. The party on his (the Ministerial) side of the House were anxious to free the people of this country from the 653 shackles which their ignorance had so long bound upon them. Gentlemen on the opposite side of the House did not care one farthing whether the revenue was diminished a few thousands or not; they only pretended to be the farmers' friend on this occasion, in order to keep up their influence over a certain class of the people, and at the same time to perpetuate the ignorance which had hitherto hung about them. An hon. Member on the opposite side of the House had said, there was no need to carry pernicious knowledge into the cottage. He (Mr. Roebuck) contended that knowledge could not be pernicious; he did not care what opinions might he circulated, if facts were also circulated. Gentlemen on the opposite side knew very well, that as soon as facts were generally and clearly understood, their power would be totally at an end. That was their object in coming forward on the present occasion, though masked under the paltry pretence of friendship to the farmer. The country was not to be deceived by such a shallow pretext, the only parties who were deceived were the hon. Gentlemen themselves, who fancied they could delude the people by such a proceeding. They however were easily seen through, added the hon. and learned Member. What was it pretended that the reduction of the duty on soap would do for the agriculturist? why simply by causing an increased demand for tallow, and consequently some increase in the demand for agricultural produce. But whom would this benefit, small as it was, go to?—not the agricultural labourer—not the farmer — but to the landowner, if to anybody. In opposing the reduction of the newspaper x hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side had racked their brains for arguments, but why need they go to America, what had America to do with the case? He held, and he was prepared to show it by a comparison of the stamped newspapers with the unstamped, that the latter were the superior, both in respect of intelligence and of morality. Ay, superior—and he challenged hon. Gentlemen who cheered, to point out a single unstamped newspaper which contained a tenth of the scurrillity, the obscenity, and the downright immorality which was to be found in the stamped newspapers of the day. Had any hon. Member dared to bring down in his hand a copy of an unstamped newspaper to support their arguments as to the per- 654 nicious nature of its contents. No one had done so. On the other hand, he could refer them to an article in The Times, where it was stated, that a certain individual, whom it was pleased to style "the big beggarman," was going to be exhibited as a show. He should like to know, whether the hon. Gentlemen who cheered this did so to show their accordance in the sentiment which pervaded this article. He could go on with many instances of a like kind, but he need not trouble the House with them. The hon. Member for Finsbury had read a statement printed in reference to the late Mr. Ronayne, at which every one who heard it shuddered with horror and disgust. And yet people talked about deluging the country with the pernicious effusions of the press. What, deluge the country with John Bulls and Ages and other papers of the kind, taken exclusively by the higher and richer classes. Hon. Gentlemen might cry "Oh, oh!" as their only reply to his assertion—"oh, oh!" was very easily said, but he repeated it, and he challenged a denial of his assertion, that the higher classes delighted in printed obscenity—delighted also in scandal and personal abuse. They would not find these in the papers circulated in the pothouse; there was no filthy obscenity, no disgusting personal scandal in these, it was in the rich man's paper, in the parson's paper, in The Age and The John Bull, and these were the papers which pandered to the morbid appetites of the wealthier classes. They paid their sevenpence for it, and they wished to have a monopoly of it, and he was quite willing to allow them; and sure he was, that if the stamp duty were taken off newspapers to-morrow, there would be no increase in the obscenity circulated by means of the press. On the contrary, he maintained that the voice of the great body of the people would bear down the obscenity which already existed in it, and that the aristocracy would at last be ashamed to foster and encourage it. Again he denied the assertion, and he challenged hon. Members who put it forward to prove it, that immorality would be increased by throwing open the newspaper press; unless indeed it were immorality in their eyes to teach the people to understand their rights, to stand up for what they ought to demand, and to put down the aristocratical domination under which they had too long laboured.
§ Mr. Kearsley
bogged to assure the hon. and learned Member for Bath, that he was not one of those who cried out "oh!" during the speech of the hon. and learned Member. He (Mr. Kearsley) had really never noted anything that had fallen from the hon. and learned Member; he had never condescended to do so. He would, however, ask the noble Lord, the Home Secretary, and the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, with what pleasure they had just listened to the disgusting speech of the hon. and learned Member for Bath.
(Mr. Bernal) was quite sure the hon. Member could not be aware of the word which had just fallen from him.
§ Mr. Kearsley
Sir, I am quite aware that I might have used language stronger than the circumstances required. I admit that the language was strong; but I must say, that a more disgusting speech I never heard.
I am really very sorry to call the hon. Member's attention again to the words which he made use of, but I must beg to repeat it, and in doing so I am in the hands of the Committee, to be corrected if I am wrong, that the language which fell from the hon. Member was such as was never permitted to be used in this House.
§ Mr. Kearsley
I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Bath having charged me with what is not true, I cannot characterize his speech by other terms. ["Order! Chair!"}
§ Mr. Roebuck
I trust the House will permit the debate to proceed, and make allowance for what must be looked upon as an infirmity of the hon. Member opposite.
§ Mr. Paul Methuen
I think it is due not only to this House but to the country, that the Chairman should declare whether the language of the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Kearsley) is such as should be addressed to this House, or such as it is becoming in us to hear, without reprehension. I tome here to do my duty to my constituents, and not for the purpose of listening to language which is unbecoming the dignity of this House.
§ Mr. Kearsley
Sir, when the hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Paul Methuen) thinks proper so precipitately to interrupt me, I am tempted to exclaim, "Paul! Paul! why persecutest thou me?' [The hon. Member left his seat, and walked 656 down to the floor of the House, where, after bowing twice, he made two efforts to retire, but being stopped at the bar, returned to his place.]
§ Mr. Walter
felt it his duty to address the House on a subject upon which he could give some practical information.
§ Mr. Hume
I rise to order, Sir. I wish to ask you, Sir, as Chairman, whether the proceedings of this House are to be conducted in the disorderly manner in which they have been this evening. Again, Sir, as our Chairman, you have declared, (and we are prepared to support you in the opinion,) that the words used by the hon. Member for Wigan, are unbecoming of him in his present situation. The only course left you, then, Sir, as Chairman, is I apprehend, to call upon the hon. Member to retract the words; and in case of his refusing to do so, I think that you are called upon to put in force the authority vested in you as Chairman. I think a further apology is due from the hon. Member for his conduct as it regards the House; for since I have had a seat in Parliament I have never seen an hon. Member leave his place, and behave in the manner which the hon. Member has behaved this night. Sir, it is the duty of the Chairman, for the sake of preserving the dignity of our proceedings, to call upon the hon. Member to make that apology which, in my opinion, he is bound to give.
In answer to the appeal which has been made to me, I beg to observe, that the Chairman of a Committee has, when called upon, but one course to pursue with reference to such a question as the present, and that is, when an hon. Member misconducts or misbehaves himself, the Chairman is imperatively bound by his duty, if the hon. Member refuses to offer any explanation of, or apology for his conduct, to report the matter to the Speaker for the exercise of his superior authority. I hope I shall never be found wanting in the performance of that duty whenever I sec the necessity of applying for the superior jurisdiction of the Speaker.
§ Mr. H. Bulwer
I think, Sir, under the circumstances of the present case, you are called upon to exert that authority which you possess of reporting these proceedings to the Speaker.
as the hon. Member for Middlesex has moved that I should report progress, and as he has made as the 657 ground of his motion, a complaint against an hon. Member, perhaps, he will be good enough to state specifically what it is.
§ Mr. Hume
I have no hesitation in saying, that my complaint refers to the observations which the hon. Member made use of with respect to my hon. Friend, the Member for Bath, and which you yourself strongly reprobated. I did not hear what the hon. Member said before he uttered the objectionable expression to which I refer; but I did hear him mate use of the phrase "disgusting speech," as applied to the address of my hon. Friend. Every hon. Member near me can, I believe, say that he also heard it, and will further support me, I am sure, in the assertion, that the conduct of the hon. Member, in leaving his seat and coming to the floor of the House, and, in fact, behaving himself in a manner in which I have never yet seen any hon. Member behave in this House, calls for some apology.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
I am sure, Sir, there must be but one feeling pervade all the Members of this House with regard to the mode of our conducting our discussions, and that is, that unless our opinions and views are expressed in proper and decorous language, we shall not only lose the respect of society at large, but a considerable interruption will also be afforded to the course of public business. The occurrence which has taken place stands thus: an observation has been made by the hon. Member for Wigan, and it is to him that I wish particularly to address myself, in reply to the speech delivered by the hon. Member for Bath, which was such as to call down upon him, in my mind justly, (and I believe in the opinion of the majority justly also,) your censure, Sir, and your statement, that his observation was unparliamentary and unbecoming. Undoubtedly, then, the only course left you, is to bring it under the consideration of the Speaker; that is, if you be driven to such an alternative. But when the hon. Gentleman opposite has heard from the Chairman of the Committee the uncontradicted opinion, which I may, therefore, take to be the opinion of the whole Committee, that his proceedings and observations have been unparliamentary, and open to your censure, Sir, I do trust the hon. Gentleman will do that which will save the House all further trouble on this question, that which I venture to say he will himself feel it his duty to do— namely, by submitting to the expressed 658 authority of the Chairman, to whom we are all bound to submit, and withdrawing the expression which he has used. I do hope that the excitement into which the hon. Member may have been betrayed by the previous course of the debate, will induce him to apologise to the Committee for any expressions which he might have used, and for the inadvertent and irregular proceedings into which he may have been led. Our course is a clear one; but I appeal to the hon. Member whether he will impose on the House the necessity of adopting it.
§ Mr. Kearsley
said, if the expression which I used is not agreeable to the taste of the Committee, I beg leave to withdraw it. But I presume, Sir, I have a right to say, that I heard that speech with disgust.
Really, I must say that the repetition of these terms is a further trespass on the decorum which should be observed in the proceedings of this House.
§ Mr. Kearsley
—Sir, all I can say is, that as I can't swim in the same water with the hon. Gentlemen opposite, they may construe the expression as they please.
§ Lord Ebrington
rose, and said: The apology which the hon. Member has given is not one such as I conceive is due to the House, after the manner in which the decorum of its proceedings has been infringed upon. I must, therefore, Sir, unless the hon. Gentleman thinks proper to make a more satisfactory apology to the Committee, beg leave to move that you report progress, and report this matter to the Speaker.
§ Lord J. Russell
As the noble Lord, the Member for North Devonshire, has moved that the Chairman report progress, and that the expressions used by the hon. Member be reported to the House, I wish to state what was the manner in which I conceive the hon. Member received the opinion expressed by the Chairman. I understood him to have said, that he withdrew entirely the expression which was complained of. I must say, however, likewise, that I don't think it was mentioned by the Chairman that the conduct of the hon. Member, after what he said to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire, was disrespectful to the House. But the hon. Member so immediately withdrew the expression which has been complained of, that I should suppose he will not hesitate to express his regret if his conduct should be considered disrespectful to the House. I am sure it will be more satisfactory to the whole House, if the hon. Member will take some means of 659 that kind for explaining his conduct, than that so unpleasant a subject should be referred for decision to the Speaker.
§ Mr. Kearsley
I am extremely sorry if I have done anything unpleasant to the Committee, and I beg leave to withdraw the expression which I made But when the hon. Member for North Wiltshire cries out at my mode of walking over the floor—I beg to assure the House again, that I had not the least possible intention of giving offence by my conduct on this occasion.
§ Mr. Walter
said, that having, from former engagements, some practical knowledge upon the subject under discussion, he felt it his duty to give an opinion to the House. First, however, he might be excused for saying a word or two with reference to those classes of the people who were said to be the most interested in the decision of the House. With respect to those classes—namely, the working classes —he would not yield to any one in feeling for their interests, and in endeavours to support their rights and ameliorate their condition; and if, on the present occasion, he might be thought to vote against them, he was sure it would be found in the result that his vote and opinion were not given against them, but against those who were endeavouring to mislead them. With respect to the removal of taxes generally, if the right hon. Gentleman who presided over the finances of the country could spare any one or more of the taxes, he thought he would better look to those which pressed upon the comforts and necessaries of the people, rather than one which was said to press upon their knowledge. This, also, was very clear, that if they were disposed to give the people more political knowledge, they must also give them more time; that is, they must to a degree exempt them from their daily avocations to read the daily press, as well as to put the productions into their hands. If he might be allowed to give his opinion, the cry that had been set up on this subject by no means merited that attention which had been paid to it. Petitions for the total repeal of what were called taxes on knowledge had been profusely transmitted to the country for signature, by societies in London; but in the count}' which he had the honour to represent they were utterly disregarded. He recollected hearing a plan of Lord Althorp's when he was finance Minister, which it appeared might be practically Useful to the public, without being very 660 detrimental to the Exchequer, and he thought that that plan ought to have been adopted in preference to the present plan of his Lordship's successor. But if he had had any doubt whatever upon the question, that doubt would have been removed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech upon this subject. The right hon. Gentleman had told them frankly, that he repealed or gave up the greatest portion of this tax because he was unable to collect it. It was not, therefore, now so much matter of debate in that House whether the stamp duty upon newspapers should be partially repealed, as who was to repeal it—they, the Representatives of the people, by whom all taxes had been hitherto imposed and repealed; or a blind authority existing they knew not where—a secret junta, who had been long encouraging the people to set the Government and laws at defiance. As to there being no means of stopping the audacious career of the vendors of unstamped publications, what was that but saying there was no Government capable of fulfilling its duty, which duty it was to render the law supreme, and to punish its violation? If the contempt of the laws had been such as the right hon. Gentleman represented, the criminality of such contempt rested with the Administration of the country. If the Administration had had any head—if it had been anything but a Government of departments without head —such head or chief ought, on an occasion like that described, to have sent for his Majesty's law officers and the Chief Commissioner of Stamps, and said—Put a stop to these violations of the law, or quit your situations, of which you are incompetent to discharge the hitherto acknowledged constitutional functions. He again said, that he thought the plan suggested four or five years ago of a moderate reduction of duty ought to have taken place; but for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to talk of a diminution now, when the law was trampled under foot, what was it but exciting the people by success to violate every other law which held the Monarchy together? He would further beg leave to inquire what the right hon. Gentleman proposed to gain by thus making the law succumb to its violators? Would he satisfy them by reducing the tax to 1d.? He held in his hand a journal which represented their opinions, and therein he found an advertisement, from which he should read an extract:— "It is now nearly six years since a few persons, desirous of instructing their breth- 661 ren, resolutely determined to break through such infamous and unjust laws, by publishing unstamped newspapers and periodicals. They have for this period been at war with powerful opponents, and their liberties, persons, and property have suffered much in the conflict. They have, however, succeeded in awakening the public voice in favour of cheap political knowledge and a free unstamped press. But, notwithstanding the numerous petitions that have been presented to Parliament on the subject, together with the strong manifestations of public opinion otherwise expressed, either through the intrigues of stamped newspaper monopolists, or the desire of Government to perpetuate ignorance, those odious laws are still continued. They now, however, having failed to crush the unstamped, seek jesuitically to undermine it. It is reported they now intend to retain a penny tax, and to enact more severe laws against the unstamped; this will only strengthen the monopoly of the press—make it, if possible, more servile and corrupt, and throw us more at the mercy of tyrants, by preventing us from reading or receiving any knowledge but such as the monopolists and Government choose. It then becomes your imperative duty to speak out for the total abolition of the tax, by rallying round the unstamped, before your principal channels of information be effectually cut off." This advertisement was signed by a Mr. Lovett, the secretary, and Dr. Birkbeck and Mr. Place, the treasurers of the society. This was the class of people whom the right hon. Gentleman sought to conciliate; and this was the degree to which he would conciliate them, that they were already become ten times more furious against the remaining penny than they were against the whole tax; and in this manner would his hands be strengthened to collect the penny, when he had shown the violators of the law that they had already forced him to give up the larger sum. He could tell the right hon. Gentleman, upon every principle of common sense, that by confessing himself unable to collect one portion of the tax, he had confessed himself unable to collect the last remaining portion. With respect to the details of the question, it might perhaps be difficult to weigh the motives which induced the Government to measure out its portion of knowledge to the country by inches—which inches came so limited in number as just to let out some papers into free circulation, and to confine others 662 at the barrier. The right hon. Gentleman had no doubt been obliged to widen his bounds, but he still adhered to the principle of measurement and limitation. He hoped the House would not think he was speaking for individuals only; he was contending for the principles of a free trade. Let hon. and intelligent Gentlemen consider, that in all cases an expensive machinery must be got together and established, on the just expectation, without which no enterprise could be entered upon, that the owners should be allowed to conduct their business in the way which their ingenuity might suggest and their funds supply the means; but here the Legislature suddenly stepped in, and rendered their efforts unavailing, by an unforeseen change in those fundamental rules, according to which their business had been conducted, and this under the affectation of liberality. Now, surely, the greatest liberality to the public would be, to interfere as little as possible with the internal workings of trade, to leave its operations unfettered, and, except everything was to be beaten down to the dead level of mediocrity, to suffer talent, and energy, and industry, to work their natural way. As to the pretence that a larger paper ought to pay an additional postage, and that the right hon. Gentleman imposed the additional tax on that account —this would have some weight if the paper were printed solely for the purpose of being transmitted by the post; but why tax the whole of the circulation, if but a part, and that a very small part, was sent into the country; and even of that small part, by far the greater portion was transmitted by the morning coaches, and not by the post? If he meant to tax for postage, let him tax at the Post-office; let him not tax that which never saw the post. He confessed that the comparison which the right hon. Gentleman had made of a public journal with any article capable of being smuggled, struck him as a very singular one. Upon the latter class of articles, such as tea and spirits for example, no doubt the higher the duty the greater was the temptation to import or fabricate the article secretly; but how was that to be done with a newspaper, the sole use and object of which was to be in the hands of all, friends or foes, and which bore upon the face of it, by the absence or presence of a stamp, the testimony whether it was legal or the contrary? The right hon. Gentleman, too, had spoken of monopolies; he probably best knew what the meaning of that word originally was, 663 and what, in common sense, must continue to be its meaning. Monopoly was a privilege granted exclusively by the Crown for particular persons or bodies to work one specific business, or deal in one specific article, and all others were prohibited from infringing upon this privilege. Now, was the trade of newspapers thus guarded? Were others besides those who had the chief business in this particular branch prohibited from entering into the same? If by the word monopolists was meant a class of persons who, through particular industry, talent, and attention to business, had risen to distinction in their peculiar profession, while that profession remained, and always had remained, open to all; and if it were meant, further, that that class of industrious and intelligent people, who by these qualities alone had had success, were now to be assailed, and if possible crushed, then he said, that instead of destroying a monopoly or monopolists, they would destroy or impair the fairest incitements to industry and exertion in the country; they would ruin, as far as in them lay, the hopes of the fair tradesman, and invade property in an unjustifiable and unprecedented manner. He begged leave, in conclusion, to state, that personally he was perfectly indifferent as to whatever course the right hon. Gentleman might adopt.
§ The Committee divided on the original question: Ayes 241; Noes 208;—Majority 33.
|List of the AYES.—Not Official.|
|Adam, Sir Charles||Blunt, Sir Charles|
|Aglionby, Henry A.||Bodkin, John James|
|Ainsworth, Peter||Bowes, John|
|Andover, Lord Visct.||Bowring, Dr.|
|Angerstein, John||Brabazon, Sir Wm.|
|Anson, hon. Colonel||Brady, Dennis C.|
|Attwood, Thomas||Bridgeman, Hewitt|
|Bagshaw, John||Brocklehurst, John|
|Baines, Edward||Brodie, William B.|
|Baldwin, Dr.||Brotherton, Joseph|
|Ball, Nicholas||Browne, Robt. Dillon|
|Bannerman, Alex.||Buckingham, J. S.|
|Barclay, David||Buller, Charles|
|Baring, F. Thornhill||Buller, Edward|
|Baring, Francis||Bulwer, H. L.|
|Barnard, Ed. George||Bulwer, E, L.|
|Barron, Henry W.||Burdon, W. W.|
|Barry, G. Standish||Burton, Henry|
|Beauclerk, Major||Butler, hon. Pierce|
|Bellew, Richard M.||Buxton, T. F.|
|Bentinck, Lord Wm.||Byng, George|
|Bewes, Thomas||Callaghan, Daniel|
|Biddulph, Robert||Campbell, Sir John|
|Blackburn, J.||Cave, Robert Otway|
|Blake, M. Joseph||Cavendish, hon. G. H.|
|Blamire, William||Cayley, Edward S.|
|Chalmers, Patrick||Hume, Joseph|
|Chapman, Lowther||Humphery, John|
|Chetwynde, Captain||Hurst, Robert H.|
|Chichester, J. P. B.||Hutt, William|
|Childers, John W.||Ingham, Robert|
|Clay, William||Jephson, Chas. D. O.|
|Clements, Lord Visct.||Jervis, John|
|Clive, Edward B.||Johnstone, Sir John|
|Cockerell, Sir Charles||Johnston, Andrew|
|Codrington, Admiral||Kerrison, Sir Edwd.|
|Colborne, N. W. R.||King, Edwd. Bolton|
|Collier, John||Labouchere, rt. hon. Henry|
|Conyngham, Lord A.|
|Cookes, Thomas H.||Langton, Wm. Gore|
|Crawford, Wm. S.||Leader, John Temple|
|Crawford, William||Lefevre, Chas. Shaw|
|Crompton, Samuel||Lemon, Sir Charles|
|Curteis, Herbert B.||Lennard, Thomas B.|
|Curteis, Edward B.||Lennox, Lord George|
|Dalmeny, Lord||Lennox, Lord A.|
|Dennison, J. Evelyn||Lister, Ellis Cunliffe|
|Donkin, Sir Rufane||Loch, James|
|Duncombe, Thomas||Lushington, Dr.|
|Dundas, hon. J. C.||Lushington, Charles|
|Dundas, hon. T.||Lynch, Andrew H.|
|Dundas, J. Deanes||Mackenzie, Stewart|
|Dunlop, John||Mangles, James|
|Ebrington, Lord Vis.||Marshall, William|
|Elphinstone, Howard||Marsland, Henry|
|Evans, George||Maul, hon. Fox|
|Ewart, William||Methuen, Paul|
|Fazukerley, John N.||Molesworth, Sir Wm.|
|Ferguson, Sir R.||Morpeth, Lord Visct.|
|Ferguson, Robert||Morrison, James|
|Fergusson, rt. hn. R.C.||Mostyn, hon. Edward|
|Fielden, John||Mullins, Fred. Wm.|
|Fitzroy, Lord Charles||Murray, right hon. John A.|
|Fitzsimon, Nicholas||Musgrave, Sir Richd.|
|Fort, John||Nagle, Sir Richd.|
|French, Fitzstephen||O'Brien, Cornelius|
|Gaskell, Daniel||O'Brien, W. Smith|
|Gordon, Robert||O'Connell, Daniel|
|Grattan, James||O'Connell, John|
|Grattan, Henry||O'Connell, M. J.|
|Grey, Sir George||O'Connell, Morgan|
|Grosvenor, Lord R.||O'Connor, Don|
|Grote, George||O'Ferral, Rich. More|
|Guest, Josiah John||Oliphant, Lawrence|
|Gully, John||O'Loghlen, Michael|
|Hall, Benjamin||Oswald, James|
|Harland, William C.||Paget, Frederick|
|Hawes, Benjamin||Palmer, General|
|Hawkins, John H.||Palmerston, Viscount|
|Hay, Sir Andrew L.||Parker, John|
|Hector, C. J.||Parnell, right hon. Sir Henry|
|Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir John||Parrott, Jasper|
|Hodges, Thomas L.||Pease, Joseph|
|Hodges, T. Twisden||Pechell, Captain|
|Holland, Edward||Pelham, hon. C. A.|
|Horsman, Edward||Pendarves, E. W. W.|
|Howard, Ralph||Philips, Mark|
|Howard, hon. Edw.||Phillips, C. March|
|Howard, Philip H.||Potter, Richard|
|Howick, Lord Visct.||Poulter, John Sayer|
|Poyntz, Wm. Stephen||Thompson, Colonel|
|Pryme, George||Thornely, Thomas|
|Ramsbottom, John||Tooke, William|
|Rice, rt. hon. T. S.||Townley, Richard G.|
|Rippon, Cuthbert||Trelawney, Sir W.|
|Robinson, George R.||Tulk, Charles A.|
|Roche, Wm.||Verney, Sir Harry|
|Roche, David||Vernon, G. H.|
|Roebuck, John A.||Villiers, Charles P.|
|Rundle, John||Vivian, John Henry|
|Russell, Lord John||Wakley, Thomas|
|Russell, Lord||Walker, Richard|
|Ruthven, Edward||Wallace, Robert|
|Sanford, Edward A.||Warburton, Henry|
|Scholefield, Joshua||Ward, Henry George|
|Scott, Sir Edward D.||Wason, Rigby|
|Seale, Colonel||Wemyss, Captain|
|Seymour, Lord||Westenra, hon. H. R.|
|Sharpe, General||Westenra, hon. J. C.|
|Sheil, Richard||Wilde, Mr. Sergeant|
|Smith, John Abel||Wilkins, Walter|
|Smith. R. Vernon||Williams, William|
|Smith, Benjamin||Williams, W. Addams|
|Steuart, Robert||Williams, Sir J.|
|Strutt, Edward||Winnington, H. J.|
|Stuart, Lord James||Wood, Charles|
|Stuart, Villiers||Wood, Alderman|
|Surrey, Earl of||Woulfe, Mr. Sergeant|
|Talbot, J. Hyacinth||Wrightson, W. B.|
|Talfourd, Mr. Serg.||Wrottesley, Sir John|
|Tancred, Henry W.||Wyse, Thomas|
|Thomson, right, hon. C. P.||Young, George Fred.|
|Thompson, Paul B.||TELLER.|
|Thomson, Mr. Ald.||Stanley, Edward John|
§ The several resolutions were agreed to, and the House resumed.