§ Mr. Roebuck
rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move for the appointment of a Select Committee, to take into consideration the expediency of abolishing the penny stamp on newspapers. He placed his proposition on the single ground, and on no other ground whatever, that it was desirable to remove every obstruction to the education of the people. It was the duty of that House so to frame their proceedings as to give every facility to the attainment of that object. The existence of the penny stamp on newspapers was unfavourable to that object. Whoever had recently attended to the concerns of this country, and the world, must be aware, that the people took a greater interest in political matters at the present, than they had taken at any former period. As a larger mass of people were thus submitted to the influence of education, it was the duty of every Government deserving the name of Government, to do all they could so to fashion the measures of the Legislature as to give the community the amplest means of instruction with, respect to that on which they wished to be informed, the general concerns of the community, social and political. Now, what had the present liberal Government' done to remove obstacles to the attainment of knowledge by the people? Had they done all they could for that purpose? No; 1163 but when last year, for no fiscal purpose, they took off a great part of the stamp-duty on newspapers, they left enough of that duty to form an obstruction to the instruction of the people. It had been acknowledged by Ministers that the existing duty had not been retained for fiscal purposes. For what purpose then? The noble Lord at the head of the Government in that House had admitted, that the fiscal was the least consideration in the way of retaining the present duty; and that such a purpose ought never to stand in the way of public instruction. Was it retarded for the purpose of maintaining some particular monopoly? The London newspapers were, at the present moment, in his opinion, a monopoly; and perhaps the penny duty might be retained, for the purpose of keeping that monopoly up. Now, his object was, to do away with all monopoly, and to give to people in the country, who now took so lively an interest in political and social matters, the benefit of the discussion of those matters. He was desirous, therefore, to abolish the duty entirely; so that, as in America, every small town should have its newspaper, in which general and local matters might be freely discussed. After what had been said on the subject in that House by the Members of his Majesty's Government, he should be very much surprised if the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to get up and declare, that he retained the duty for fiscal purposes. Taking into the account the increase in the duty on advertisements, and in the duty on paper, which the augmented sale of newspapers must produce, the fiscal advantage resulting from continuing the duty was a very paltry consideration indeed. But they had all along showed their carelessness and apathy on the subject of the education of the people. Why, as had been said by the noble Lord, who was the leader of the Tories in the other House of Parliament, why not take off the remaining penny of duty? What purpose could its retention answer, but to bring his Majesty's Government into disrepute? It could do the right hon. Gentleman's budget no good. By the measure of last Session they had put some thousands of pounds into the pockets of a few monopolists of London, and had done the people no service. He care nothing about the education of the rich they would obtain instruction under any circumstances. But he was very 1164 solicitous for the education of the poor; and, as he had already observed, he was desirous that, every small town in the country should have its newspaper. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the expediency of taking off the penny-stamp duty on newspapers.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
felt it to be his duty to oppose the motion of the hon. Member for Bath. Whoever had heard that hon. Gentleman, must suppose that his Majesty's Government wished to retain the duty for some odious purposes of their own. Nothing could be further from the fact. The stamp-duty on newspapers was as low at present as it was a century ago. When the subject of the reduction of the stamp-duty on news, papers had been first introduced, after his coming into office, he had stated his fears, that the financial state of the country would not permit his making such reduction. But, in a future Session, he redeemed the pledge which he had given by inference in a preceding one. He must now say, that he could not propose, in making any new arrangement, to redeem the remaining tax on the article of newspapers, seeing that he had already made so large a concession. He defended its continuance, moreover, because he contended, that with respect to newspapers, the Government gave to newspapers great advantages, in exchange for the tax which was laid upon them. The free circulation of newspapers through the General Post-office of this country, was just one of those advantages which were given, and one of the means afforded to improve the character of the press, and to diffuse political knowledge amongst all classes of the community. The hon. and learned Member for Bath maintained, that the present law went to establish a monopoly of the press of the metropolis; and the hon. and learned Member had used some hard words in reference to the proprietors of that press.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
resumed. Why, the hon. and learned Member had argued that the effect of the present duty was to put some thousands of pounds into the pockets of a few monopolists of London. By giving a free circulation to newspapers a national charac- 1165 ter was given to the press; but let not the argument be limited merely to the metropolitan press. He would now call the, attention of the House to what had been the effect of the reduction of the duty on newspapers as established by the act of last year. They had had six months' experience, of the operation of that act. In the half year ending the 5th of April, 1836, the number of newspapers stamped was 14,874,000, In the first half year during which his experiment had been tried that number rose from 14,874,000 to 21,300,000; which shewed a vast increase of nearly one-third, Therefore, if the circulation of newspapers were a benefit to the community, the hon. Member ought to give him credit for the success of his measure. When the hon. Gentleman underrated the value of the experiment which had been made, he must call his attention to the following facts, to show the progress which had been made:—In the first quarter of the, half year in which the reduction of duty had taken place the number of stamps was 8,362,000; and in the second quarter, ending 5th April last, they amounted to no less than 13,000,000, So that pot only was there a vast increase as comparing the last half year with that which had preceded it, but in comparing the two quarters of the last half year separately the numbers rose from 8,000,000 to 13,000,000. Take a further proof of what was going on, if they allowed the present system to continue;—he found that in the last quarter of the last half year (as he before stated) the number of newspaper stamps amounted to 13,000,000, In the last half year previous to the reduction of the stamp-duty the number of stamps for the whole of Great Britain was 14,000,000 and odd; so that the number of stamps in the quarter ending April, 1837, was within 1,000,000 of what it was for six months ending in April last year. Would not, then, the hot). Gentleman admit these figures demonstrated a most beneficial result from the operation of the present act? But then the hon. Gentleman said, "Oh, but you have put down the unstamped papers." Now that was precisely the object which he had in view. It was his object to protect the capitalist from being undersold. But he should be sorry if It were imagined that the financial view was the only one which he took or which guided him, because the hon. and learned Gentleman had very properly 1166 brought forward the number of criminal prosecutions to which infractions of the late stamp acts had led. Returns to the House had been made showing the number of persons who had been imprisoned, the amount of penalties they had incurred, &c., from year to year, for violations of the law in this respect. And, as had been stated, those individuals not only violated the law, but when they were punished they became martyrs and objects of commiseration. From an abstract of the returns which had been called for, it appeared that there had been 600 and upwards of persons committed in the metropolis; 384 committed to prisons in different parts of the country making 984 and upwards of persons committed for violations of these stamp-laws; and let it be remembered, also, that there were prosecutions in the Court of Exchequer, He found the law in. this state then—he found that the greatest possible evils arose from what were termed these infractions of the press. But what was the altered Hate of circumstances now? Why, since the new law came into operation there had. not been, one prosecution—there had been not one press seized. No such evils had resulted since the measure came into operation. To advert to the way in which the revenue had been affected by the change made in the law, he must observe that the reduction of the duty on newspapers, coupled with, half the duty on paper, which was remitted also to other works of literature had created in the last year only a diminution of 8,000l. out of a sum of 100,000l, An objection had been made to the imposition of postage on newspapers forwarded to remote districts. It was asked why should the poor agricultural population of the country he taxed for that which the rich were not, This was a subject materially connected with the postage of newspapers, which he hoped in the present Session to see remedied. It was, his intention to propose the reduction of the penny postage on newspapers in the present Session if possible. He believed that such an arrangement would give great satisfaction, though; he confessed he did not yet see his Way clearly as to substituting a hand delivery in the metropolis. The hon. Member for Bath well knew the difficulty there was in another place to get the measure, passed, of which he complained as inefficient. It was almost a miracle that the measure was carried. He hoped that hon. Gen- 1167 tleman would recollect that the proposition which he carried was the very proposition which had been made by friends of his own the year previous. He had done all that he had promised to do. He had done all he could—he had reduced the rate of taxation to what it was in the reign of Queen Anne. He must oppose the motion of the hon. Member, and conclude by moving, as an amendment, for accounts explanatory of the effects produced on the revenue by the change of the law; Returns of all legal proceedings against any offenders; and returns of persons committed to prison (if any) under the new act. This would complete the papers which had been furnished, by showing an honourable contrast with the former state of things.
§ The question having been put,
§ Mr. Wakley
said, if [the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer were really so well satisfied with his own plan, he would ask, how could he hesitate to knock off the remaining half of the tax? The right hon. Gentleman had argued that the people had derived great advantages from the free circulation of the newspaper press; and yet he had declared against the setting of the press free, and hesitated to do that which was right. He felt that the Radicals were placed in an unfortunate position since the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues had come into office. They had been in a sort of partnership with the present Ministry, supporting them in their good measures, and hesitating to give that support when they disapproved of their proceedings. The Radicals were thus the watching, not the sleeping, partners of the Ministry, and were acting] in a most unfavourable position. If they, in sincerity, advocated those measures which were likely to serve the public cause, was it not hard that after all these efforts on their part they could not obtain from the Government one solitary supporter? It was almost time that this state of things should cease; and it was utterly impossible that it should much longer continue. And he could assure his Majesty's Ministers with much truth, that the Radicals were subjected to very bitter complaints out of doors for the very quiet, easy part which they took in that House. It was often asked of them "What matters it to us whether Whigs or Tories, whether Conservatives, as they are called, or Radicals, be in power, provided we see 1168 some good measures introduced, and some Radical measures proposed and carried." Now he felt himself very often incapacitated from giving a satisfactory answer to this proposition. It was impossible to satisfy his friends on these points. He had voted against the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth when that Gentleman was at the head of the Government, on almost every occasion, and he believed he might say he should do so again in such a case occurring, because he had never approved of the school to which that right hon. Gentleman belonged, he not having any aristocratic connexions, and being sent to that House to serve the cause of the people. And determined as he was to act up to every pledge which he had ever given, it was a matter of no importance to him who were in or out of office, provided that they could get measures passed which were approved of out of doors. The right hon. Gentleman had told them of the number of stamps which had been issued in the last six months, but he had forgotten to say how many hundreds of thousands of papers had been suppressed by the law of last year, which had been freely circulated amongst the industrious labouring classes of the community. He believed that many of the measures of his Majesty's Ministers were good, land he believed, moreover, that better could not be introduced by the Radicals themselves. But let the House look at the state of the country people with reference to one of the best measures that ever was introduced into that House, namely, that for abolishing the Church-rates. Only witness the delusion which prevailed in the country on the subject of this question. In some parts of England— in every parish, or almost in every parish— the rector, the vicar, or the curate, had been round to the parishioners making statements to the people the truth or falsehood of which they had not the means to ascertain. In a parish which he had lately visited in Devonshire the clergyman had called on the labouring people, and asked them "Have you heard of the Ministerial measure respecting Church-rates? Do you know that your Church is to be pulled down? Are you for the Church or not." This had been done [Name, name!] The places to which his observations had reference were, Membury, Stockland, and Yarcombe. But he would name one instance further, where a labouring man refused to sign a petition against the ministerial measure 1169 for the abolition of church-rates. He could not, indeed, write; but the clergyman said to him, "Oh, you will do of course as your neighbours do; I will write your name for you." Now, this he believed had been the case in many instances. For his own part, he would say, that a more Conservative measure than that which the Ministers had introduced for the abolition of church-rates had never been framed. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Cumberland, (Sir James Graham) on a former night, had addressed himself very strongly on the subject of the voluntary principle; and he had said, that many of those who advocated the ministerial plan were for the voluntary principle. And so he was — he was in favour of the voluntary principle, but not to the subversion of the Church Establishment. He believed that if the voluntary principle were once brought into play, it would be beneficial to the best interests of the Church, because it would tend to awaken and improve the energies of the ministers and members of that Church. He never wished to weaken or disturb a single pillar of the establishment. He denied that the Radicals sought for or desired the subversion of the Church. He knew that in the borough which he had the honour to represent he had always spoken in favour of the Established Church; and he had yet to learn that the mass of Reformers wished to see the Church destroyed. But the assertion that they had any such intention was made only for party purposes. What the Radicals desired was, that the great mass of the people should have an opportunity to understand the questions which were submitted to the consideration of that House. At present they had no such facilities afforded them. The newspaper ought to be the weekly book of the labouring man, and would be so if he had the opportunity of reading it; but let him read the principles of personal rights and personal wrongs. Of these and other Subjects he was now ignorant. The ignorance of the people in many parts of the country was so great as to be hardly credible. Only a little while ago, a farmer in Wiltshire was asked how many kings there were reigning in England, Scotland, and Ireland. "Oh! Lord, Sir," said he, "I don't know how 1170 many there be now, but when I was a boy there used to be but two—old King George 3rd and the Prince of Wales. Another was asked what he understood by the ballot, and what he thought of it. "Oh," said he, with a knowing shake of the head, "that's the only fair way of doing it; all our names be put into a hat, and his as is drawed out, why he's the Member." Now, when such answers as these were received upon matters which were the topic of discussion, how could it be wondered at that there were 300 Gentlemen professing Tory principles on the opposite side of the House. But give to the whole country the means of acquiring information at a cheap and easy rate, and he believed, not only that the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) would come over to that side of the House, but that there would not be in the House of Commons more than ten Gentlemen professing Tory principles. It was impossible with an intelligent and well-informed people, that Toryism could continue to exist for a day. It was opposed to all the best interests of the country. What was Toryism? He would not wait to define it; but the effects of a kindred principle of policy and action might be seen in the Carlism of Spain, the Miguelism of Portugal, and the autocratic despotism of Russia and Poland. But to return to the topic immediately under consideration. His right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought, that the stamp upon newspapers improved the character of the press—his right hon. Friend thought it tended to make the press respectable.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer
had been misunderstood. His argument was this, not that the stamp improved the press, but that the substitution of a postage duty for a stamp duty would deprive the English press of its present character.
§ Sir Robert Peel
took the opportunity afforded by the interruption of the Chancellor of the Exchequer of rising to a point of order. It had often of late occurred to him that they were falling into a bad habit of allowing Gentlemen in the midst of a speech to offer explanations, which, according to the rules of debate, ought to be deferred until the speech was concluded. This practice had a tendency to interrupt the train of argument in the 1171 mind of the speaker, and certainly contributed in no degree to the convenience of the House.
§ The Speaker
observed, that the circumstance to which the right, hon. Baronet referred had frequently given him much pain. He had always felt the interruptions to be irregular, but had yielded to them, from a desire to consult what, at the time, appeared to be the general feeling of the House. He was, however, firmly convinced, that the convenience of the House would always be best consulted by adhering with strictness to the fixed and settled rule of debate.
§ Mr. Wakley
was obliged to his right hon. Friend for correcting him; and although the interruption might have been irregular, he was glad it had been made, because, instead of impairing, it tended to strengthen the argument he was about to advance. His right hon. Friend said, that if the penny stamp were abolished, he thought it would deprive the English press of its present character. Now everybody in the habit of reading newspapers knew how private persons and public characters were often abused; and everybody so circumstanced must acknowledge that the present character of the press required to be changed. By way of illustration to this point, he would take the liberty of reading an extract from one of our public journals. They all knew that in poetry the finer qualities of the mind had play. To show what a stamped press could do, he would take a specimen of the poetry of the Times newspaper. It was an allusion to an hon. and learned Member of that House, whose exertions in the cause of liberty for many years, had been indefatigable, and to a great extent successful, and to whom the people of Ireland owed a debt of gratitude that could never be discharged. It was headed, "The Whig Missionary of 1835," and went on in these terms:—Seum condensed of Irish bog!Ruffian—coward—demagogue!Boundless liar—base detractor!Nurse of murded—treason's factor!Of Pope and priest the crouching slave,While thy lips of freedom rave;Of England's fame the vip'rous hater,Yet wanting courage for a traitor.Ireland's peasants feed thy purse,Still thou art her bane and curse.Tho' thou liv'st an empire's scorn,Lift on high thy brazen horn—1172Every dog shall have his day,This is thine of brutish sway.Mounted on a Premier's back,Lash the Ministerial pack;At thy nod they hold their places—Crack their sinews, grind their faces.Tho' thy hand had stabbed their motherThey would fawn and call thee brother;By their leave pursue thy calling,Rend thy patriot lungs with bawling;Spout thy filth—effuse thy sllme,Slander is in thee no crime.Safe from challenge—safe from law—What can curb thy callous jaw?Who would sue a convict liar?On a poltroon who would fire?Thou may'st walk in open light,Few will kick thee—none can fight.Then grant the monster leave to roam,Let him slaver out his foam.Only give him length of string,He'll contrive himself to swing.That was the poetry of the stamped press. He had copied the passage from The Times of the 26th November, 1835, only a year and a half since; and in The Times of the 16th December, 1835, only a fortnight afterwards, there was this notice to correspondents:— "The verses to King Dan are well imagined, but want polish." So that this was a polished specimen of the poetry of the stamped press. From the prose of the same newspaper he might have made many selections, if he had thought them necessary; he had merely alluded to the poetry for the purpose of showing that the stamp, at any rate, had not produced any great degree of refinement in the press. He should have thought, indeed, that his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, could have testified to that fact himself. He would now go to another part of the question. He contended that a free people were entitled to a free press. He maintained that a nation was not free where the press was not free. Without a free, press, there was no security for a single free institution that a nation could enjoy. The freedom of the press consisted, not in imposing restraints to prevent breaches of decorum, but in punishing those who were, actually guilty of violations of decorum in these publications. What said Blackstone upon the point? "Every man has a right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public—to prohibit this is to destroy the freedom of the press; but if he publish what is mischievous or illegal, he must take the consequence of his own demerits," Now, that passage disclosed to 1173 them, in a very few words, what in reality constituted a free press. But, suppose a man in a provincial town to publish a weekly pamphlet upon any political subjects or public events which he conceived might be, useful to the public, before he could do so, he must send either to Somerset-house or to the stamp distributor of the district, when a paper, similar to one he then held in his hand, and which he had that day received from Somerset-house, was put into his hands, explaining to him the nature and extent of the securities that would be required from him, This man might be an exceedingly intelligent tradesman or mechanic, but without any great pecuniary means. His friends also might be without pecuniary means. What then was he to do? Before he can proceed with his publication, he must give the names and residences, &c., of two persons of respectability, who will become surety for him, in the sum of 200l. each, for the advertisement duty, and beyond that, he must have two other sureties, in the sum of 400l. each, to prevent the publication of libels; making altogether a sum of 1,200l. required for security, before he could publish a penny weekly political pamphlet. Yet they were told that this state of things, arising out of the odious and tyrannical law of last year, constituted a free press, and that the law ought not to be altered. The statute of 60Geo, 3rd., commonly called the "Trash Act," had always been deemed a harsh and tyrannical law: but the Act of last year was infinitely worse. Under the law, as it now stood, a man could not publish a newspaper or political pamphlet, without the lability of having his house broken into, and every article contained in it seized. There never was such a law in England before, Until last year such a law was wholly unknown in the history of the press of this country, His right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, affected to disapprove of Tory principles; he always spoke against them, and against the Tory party; and he was perfectly right to do so, But, suppose that that party should some into, office, and carry into execution the principles which he condemned, what would be the fate of the press then? It was true, that he (Mr. Wakley) did not much fear the hon. Gentlemen opposite, because he knew that the enlightened state of the public mind would never endure Tory principles, He believed that this 1174 was pretty generally felt; and if even the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) should come into office again, he (Mr. Wakley) should expect to see him a good Radical. They had certainly witnessed some extraordinary mutations in public affairs; and after what he had seen since he had become a Member of the House, he should hardly feel surprised at any change that might come about. But if his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, were sincere in condemning the political principles of the hon. Gentlemen who sat, opposite, he trusted he would never give them an opportunity of carrying them into effect. The law, as it at present stood, was, in every respect, an objectionable law —a law that, passing into other hands, might lead to great abuses. He would recommend his right hon. Friend, therefore, to take off the whole of the tax. When the measure was last year sent up to the other House, a distinguished Tory peer, made this remark, in reference to the penny stamp, which it was proposed to retain:— "They may do better by sending up a Bill taking off the duty altogether, and by putting aside the complicated machinery and expensive establishment necessary for the levying a paltry penny tax upon each newspaper." That was a declaration of a noble and learned Lord if the other House of Parliament last Session, and he would warn the right hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury Bench, that if they did not act upon the recommendation of that Tory peer, the hon. Gentlemen opposite would take the first opportunity of doing so.
said, that the reasons adduced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for keeping up the tax, were precisely those which weighed with him for its abolition. He hoped it would be no longer permitted to press on the newspaper trade. While it continued, the press could not be said to be unshackled. Every man who paid a penny postage on newspapers in the metropolis since October fast, was defrauded of that amount. It was the clear intention of the Act of last Session that all stamped newspapers should go postage free in town as well as in country, though the twopenny post was not specified in it. If the principle were, not opposed in town, it would be extended, to the country in a very short time.
Mr. Arthur Trevar
was of opinion that if any individual, or any body of indivi- 1175 duals, embarked property in a newspaper, he or they ought to pay some tax for the permission to do so. His opinion was, that nothing could be more essentially absurd than to say, that the taking off the duty on newspapers would remove a burthen from the population of the country. As an individual, he was indifferent to the doing away of the tax, but in accordance with the principles he professed and acted upon in that House, he could not vote for the discontinuance of the duty; but he must say, after the extent to which the Government went last year in the reduction of the duty, he could not see why they should now be so mealy-mouthed on the present occasion. He had constantly opposed the abolition of the duty when the question had been brought forward on former occasions, and should still continue to pursue the same course, and would contend that it was an insult to common understanding to say that newspapers were a general medium for conveying knowledge to the people. In his view of the subject, they did so in a very limited degree indeed; and he must say, that although the arguments of those who supported the present proposition might be specious, they were without solidity.
§ Mr. Hume
hoped, as they were about to divide upon the question, that he might appeal to the right hon. Baronet (Sir R. Peel) for his vote. The right hon. Baronet had heard the speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury. He should be glad to know whether the right hon. Baronet differed in any great degree from the view taken of the subject by the hon. Member for Finsbury? Or would the right hon. Baronet tell the House that he considered the taxed press as that moral, highly-improved, and intelligent organ of communication that aright hon. Gentleman opposite had once told him it was. He did not wish to take off the penny postage; he only wished to place all the newspapers in the country in the same situation as that in which three or four of the metropolitan newspapers stood. In London several papers were published without a stamp for circulation in town and the suburbs of the town, and with a stamp for circulation in the country. Now, he wished the same liberty to be extended to every place in the kingdom. He wished that every place in the kingdom should be allowed to publish an unstamped paper for circulation at home, liable to a postage charge of a 1176 penny upon each paper that they sent into other parts of the country. He could best explain the advantage of this system by supposing a case. Suppose, then, that in Edinburgh and London there were two papers, each publishing one thousand copies, the tax upon that thousand would be 4l. 3s. 4d. Of the thousand published in London, 700 copies were sent to Edinburgh, and of the thousand published in Edinburgh, 700 were sent to London, leaving to each 300 for home circulation. Now, if his suggestion were acted upon, the tax would fall only upon those that were interchanged, namely, upon 700; which, at the rate of a penny a piece, would amount to 2l. 18s. 4d. That sum, deducted from the 4l. 3s. 4d., left a balance of 1l. 5s., which was the amount that each place would gain if the proposition were acceded to. At all events, it did not become the present Ministry to allow such an odious machinery as that established by the law of last year to remain upon the Statute-book for the sake of such a paltry tax.
§ Sir Robert Peel
said, that the language of the hon. Gentleman who had spoken last was so seducing, his countenance so very friendly, and his demeanour so alluring, that he was almost afraid, if he did remain entirely silent, that part of the House might infer that he was going to vote with the hon. Gentleman, and the country in general might suppose, in the present state of political parties, that there was some secret communication between them—that that alliance which the hon. Gentleman spoke of between those whom he called the Reformers and the Government was about to be dissolved, and an alliance about to be cemented between the former party and the Conservatives. He therefore thought it absolutely necessary for him to inform the hon. Gentleman that he agreed with his Majesty's Government on the question before the House. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that there was no breach of good faith in the case; and he hoped that he should not be the means of interrupting the communication of the allied parties. He understood that the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), proposed to lay before the House documents which would exhibit to them the result of the experiment which had been made by the late reduction of the stamp-duty. The hon. Gentleman said, that because he did not 1177 use vituperative language in that House, therefore he must support the removal of the penny stamp upon newspapers. The hon. Gentleman had been at the pains of arranging his argument into a syllogism; but it appeared to him that there were a great many steps to be filled up in the chain of reasoning before the hon. Gentleman could arrive at such a conclusion from the premises, which he hoped were themselves just, that he (Sir R. Peel) wished to discharge his duty in that House without indulging in personalities. That was the course he wished to pursue, and he presumed to think, that if every one were to follow in this respect the example which he endeavoured to set, the course of sound argument would not be obstructed, nor the character of the House of Commons lowered by it. He did not see why, because he deserved that character of abstaining from personalities, he should vote for the removal of this duty. The hon. Gentleman ought to be more impartial in his censures of the public press. The hon. Gentleman took one class of newspapers; he (Sir R. Peel) read others; for he thought a public man would very inadequately perform his duty if he abstained from consulting the public journals. He (Sir R. Peel) did consult the journals; and he was happy to say, after long experience he had now got so callous that he could read them without the slightest disturbance. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that though he had got a very extensive selection of journals, which he actually took in, and many more were forwarded to him by some good-natured friend or other, he could not say he found the penny newspapers much more complimentary than the others. ("There's the Penny Magazine") He sometimes read the Penny Magazine; he found no vituperation in that; and great instruction and amusement were to be derived from perusing even this. But there were newspapers sold for much less than 5d. under the new stamp laws; and he did not find that they improved in mildness in proportion as they descended in price. He also received publications which were subject to no stamp, and he did not find them more complimentary than those which were. From all this combination of circumstances, he inferred that they would not, by entirely removing the duty on newspapers, have a very effectual security against vituperation. 1178 When party spirit ran very high, he believed they must expect that offences against good manners would occur. They could hardly hope for perfect freedom from vituperation; and it would be a dangerous argument to employ against the utility of the press that they occasionally found some severe personal abuse. The hon. Gentlemen surely would not contend that the State should be called on to give any premium on newspapers; but would they not be giving a premium on newspapers if they provided coaches and horses at the public expense to convey them? A very important and extensive experiment had been made last year by the reduction of duty: and one very beneficial effect of the change was, that it had put an end to what might be called smuggling in this branch of the revenue. The Chancellor of the Exchequer intended to lay before the House documents which would furnish them with authentic information on the whole subject, but his own present information, was in accordance with the views of the Government. If the experiment should not prove to be successful, then the question of the removal of the penny stamp might be considered; but he did not see that its maintenance could be considered in the slightest degree unjust, if the proprietors of the newspapers were relieved from all the charges of conveyance. It might be said, that those which were sold in the metropolis did not derive the same advantage with those which were sent to the country; but it was impossible, in any general arrangement of this kind, to mete out exactly the same amount of favour to every public journal. He thought the principle of the duty just, and the State had a fair right to levy an equivalent for the charge to which it was put. The hon. Member would admit the fairness of a stamp duty. [Mr. Hume: of a postage.] He did not see that newspapers would gain anything by the substitution of a postage. He very much doubted whether the existence of a stamp duty and the free transmission of newspapers by post would not be more advantageous to the proprietors than a postage, varying according to the distance which the newspaper was conveyed. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side wished that the postage should be proportioned to the expense of conveyance. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wakley) maintained, that the country was not enlightened; but he 1179 ought to remember that the charge of enlightening the persons who had figured in the anecdotes with which he had favoured the House, would be very heavy, compared with the charge of enlightening those who dwelt in the vicinity of the metropolis. Civilization and knowledge generally decreased in proportion to the distance of a locality from the metropolis, and yet, the hon. Gentleman would exactly invert the rule, because in the neighbourhood of the metropolis the postage duty Would be very light, while in those villages of Devonshire which the hon. Gentleman wanted to make accessible to the light of knowledge, and which were some 200 or. 250 miles distant from London, a heavy postage must be paid. He thought that the views of the hon. Gentleman would be best followed up, that knowledge would be most widely extended, and civilization most effectually promoted, by charging one stamp duty upon all newspapers, and giving to the population which was neatest to the great centre of civilisation no unfair advantage over that which was most distant from it. Upon these grounds he must express his opinion as decidedly as he could against the motion. He Could assure the hon. Member for Finsbury that he was not meditating the repeal 6f this tax, for his Opinion in favour of maintaining it could not be stronger, If the progress Of the expertment which was now going on, and the documents promised by the right hon. Gentleman, should lead to the conclusion that the tone of the press might be improved by the proposed measure, that would be a subject for subsequent consideration; on that he would give no opinion; but he had heard nothing in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman from which he dissented. He had not intended to say anything On this question; but the tone of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Wakley's) observations had made it necessary for hint to offer to the House the few observations which he Had made.
§ Mr. Charles Buller
as a quasi Devoniensis begged leave to inform the right hon. Baronet of one little circumstance of which he appeared to be ignorant—namely, that the art of printing was known in Devonshire, and if they were allowed to catty it on as extensively as they pleased, they would not require the London press, because the people Of Devon had wit' enough to get up a press of their own. He 1180 once, indeed, thought that the circulation of the London press in the provinces, was absolutely necessary; but he confessed that things had shaken his opinion on the subject, for he had observed that in every respect—in ability, moderation and intelligence, the Country press was infinitely superior to that of London. If there were a penny postage instead of a penny stamp, the provinces would have the advantage of obtaining the London newspapers as easily as they do now", and at the same time of enjoying a cheap press of their own. He was apprehensive that the right hon. Baronet on rising was going to declare himself hostile to the reduction of the penny stamp; but at the end of his speech the right hon. Baronet gave him (Mr. C. Buller) reason to hope better things. There appeared, however, to be a great split with the party upon that question, for while the right hon. Baronet agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer that the stamp should be retained, the hon. Member for Durham in that House, and Lord Lyhdhurst in another place, were for doing it away, so that there were two to one of his own Friends against the right hon. Baronet. It Was possible, therefore, when the right hon. Baronet came into office, the hon. Member for Durham and the noble and learned Lord might make it a condition, in joining his Government, that he should concede to their opinions upon the penny stamp question. He (Mr. C. Buller) had listened with great pleasure to the very admirable speech of the hon. Member for Finsbury, who had explained the question with the greatest force; and he could but admire also the tone of the hon. Member. It expressed exactly that feeling which he wished always to be adopted when speaking of the intellectual state and education of the people. He was sorry however that the hon. Member should have talked about the difference between his Majesty's Ministers and their Radical supporters. He thought the hon. Member did them injustice in saying, that the Ministers did not support Radical notions, although the Radicals always supported them. This was not a fair way to put the case, because he must say that the Word Radical had changed its meaning of late— and he believed that a great many of the measures which the Ministers now supported, and the language which they now held, would have been Radical a short 1181 time ago. It was hardly fair, therefore, to say, that while the Radicals supported Ministers, Ministers did not support the Radicals. It was fairer, on the whole to say that the Ministers had made great progress in Radicalism. Upon this point he thought that rather a harsh tone had been assumed towards the Ministers. He must confess that, although differing from them with respect to the penny stamp duty, he still thought that they had pursued, on the present occasion, the only course that was open to them. Much as he himself desired the whole duty to be repealed last year, yet it would, in his opinion, be an act of levity and inconsistency on the part of those to whom was intrusted the management of public affairs, and such as would not be calculated to excite the confidence Of the country, if, after determining to retain the penny duty, the Ministers Were the very year after, to remove it. At the same time he, as an independent Member of Parliament, and without the responsibility of a Minister of State, was at liberty to express his opinion upon the question; he would, therefore, say that he thought it was desirable that the penny stamp duty should be removed. Last year, while expressing a wish that the whole of the duty should be abolished, he acknowledged that the right hon. Gentleman was entitled to great thanks for reducing the stamp to a penny, and said it would do a great portion of good. But he now found that he was wholly wrong, and was greatly disappointed in the effect which that reduction had had. It did not appear to have improved the tone of the newspapers by breaking up the monopoly, or by diffusing political information amongst the people. The right hon. Gentleman had said that there had been a great increase in the circulation of newspapers since the reduction of the duty; but he would venture to predict that when the Returns were obtained it would appear that that increase had taken place among the Sunday and country newspapers only. The price of those papers being only sevenpence a week, the reduction of threepence or four-pence was a very sensible reduction. But the reduction of the expenditure on the daily newspapers was so trifling that it had not increased their circulation. Last year he expressed his opinion with regard to the talent and character 6f the daily press of this country, which had brought 1182 down upon him some severe animadversions; but he could only say that nothing had occurred since the reduction of the stamp duty which induced him to think the monopoly of that press had been effectually broken up, or that the litterary characters engaged in the political department of it had been in the least degree improved. Everything ought to be done to diffuse political knowledge among the people, and he was astonished that a public man and a statesman should speak so slightly of it. Could any statesman of the present day look at the condition of this people, and the great mass of working men, armed with vast physical force, and possessing intelligence enough to know What was going on in the political world; but with little learning, knowledge, or talent, to enable them to form a Correct judgment upon political questions, without dreading what might befal this country whenever any future period of excitement should put that mass in motion? The Government was now experiencing the consequence of this ignorance on the part of the people; for to what else were to be attributed the prejudices which prevailed upon what was acknowledged by all men of education to be the very best of its measures— he meant the Poor-law Amendment Bill. However much the aristocracy of this country might be opposed to them upon other points, it was the fact that Upon this point the Government had received greater support from the educated classes than he believed any Government Could upon any other point whatsoever, He had spoken to many Gentlemen of the Tory persuasion— and he really thought that the good which had been derived from that measure had reconciled them to Many other steps which the Government had taken, in spite of their political prejudices. But why did a contrary opinion unhappily prevail among the uneducated, not among the class who were supposed to be the sufferers of that measure, but among those who had just that degree of intelligence which was got from oral communication with the inhabitants of large towns, and who had not the advantage of a cheap press that could inform their minds, and fill them with good opinions and the correct facts of the case? He believed that had a cheap press diffused amongst that class of persons merely the facts of the case, there would have been but little of that 1183 ignorant prejudice which had long been one of the greatest obstacles to the good Government that existed in this country. He should certainly vote in support of the present motion; and he hoped that though the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not take any further step this Session, he would apply himself seriously to, and reflect upon, this subject, seeing that he must gird up his loins for a very sharp race, which the right hon. Baronet appeared prepared to run with him.
§ Mr. Roebuck
said, he was disappointed at the way in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had answered his statement. He had put the question on its widest base, and had laid down the principle that the State ought not to tax the necessaries of life, among the foremost of which he would place education. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had not met the argument, had not shown that a tax on newspapers was no obstruction to the diffusion of knowledge; but had merely said, that because other things were taxed, education must be taxed also. The doctrine which he (Mr. Roebuck) held was, that they should tax those things which were least necessary most heavily, and those things which were most necessary, and which it was most difficult to get, most lightly. The argument of the right hon. Gentleman might be very good for a Chancellor of the Exchequer, but would not satisfy any man of education. The Post-office had nothing at all to do with the large circulation of the London newspapers. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had attempted to fasten on him a reprobation of the language used by the press when the fact was, that he never said a word about the manner in which the press was conducted. He hoped the House would not refuse to abolish a monopoly so injurious to the general advantage of the community.
§ The House divided on the original motion.—Ayes 42; Noes 81:—Majority 39.
|List of the AYES.|
|Aglionby, H. A.||Duncombe, T.|
|Brady, D. C.||Elphinstone, H.|
|Brotherton, J.||Ewart, W.|
|Bullet, C.||Fielden, J.|
|Butler, hon. P.||Grattan, H.|
|Chalmers, P.||Grote, G.|
|Chapman, L.||Harvey, D. W.|
|Codrington, Admiral||Hawes, B.|
|Crawford, W. S.||Hector, C. J.|
|Hindley, C.||Tancred, H. W.|
|Hume, J.||Thompson, Colonel|
|Humphery, J.||Tulk, C. A.|
|Jervis, J.||Villiers, C. P.|
|Leader, J. T.||Wallace, R.|
|Lister, E. C.||Warburton, H.|
|Marshall, W.||Ward, H. G.|
|Marsland, H.||Wason, R.|
|Molesworth, Sir W.||Whalley, Sir S.|
|O'Connell, D.||Williams, W.|
|Rippon, C.||Roebuck, J. A.|
|Rundle, J.||Wakley, T.|
|List of the NOES.|
|Arbuthnot hon. H.||Peel, rt. hon. Sir R.|
|Balfour, T.||Pendarves, E. W. W.|
|Bannerman, A.||Perceval, Colonel|
|Baring, F. T.||Philips, M.|
|Benett, J.||Pollock, Sir F.|
|Bewes, T.||Pryme, G.|
|Blackstone, W. S.||Rae, rt. hon. Sir W.|
|Brodie, W. B.||Rice, rt hon. T. S.|
|Buller, Sir J. Y.||Richards, J.|
|Campbell, Sir J.||Richards, R.|
|Cavendish, C.||Rickford, W.|
|Dillwyn, L.||Robinson, G. R.|
|Donkin, Sir R.||Rolfe, Sir R. M.|
|Eaton, R. J.||Ross, C.|
|Fancourt, Major||Russell, Lord J.|
|Fergusson, right on. R. C.||Ryle, J.|
|Fitzroy, Lord C.||Sanford, E. A.|
|Forster, C. S.||Scarlett hon. R.|
|Fremantle, Sir T.||Scott, Sir E. D.|
|Goulburn, rt. hon. H.||Seymour, Lord|
|Graham, rt. hn. Sir J.||Sharpe, General|
|Harcourt, G. S.||Shaw, right hon. F.|
|Hardy, J.||Stuart, V.|
|Hawkins, J. H.||Talfourd, Mr. Serjeant|
|Hinde, J. H.||Thompson, right, hon.|
|Houstoun, G.||C. P.|
|Howard, P. H.||Trelawny, Sir W.|
|Hoy, J. R.||Trevor, hon. A.|
|Johnston, A.||Tynte, C. J. K.|
|Kearsley, J. H.||Vere, Sir C. B.|
|Labouchere, rt. hn. H.||Vesey, hon. T.|
|Lee, J. L.||Vivian, J. E.|
|Martin, T.||Wall, C.B.|
|Maunsell, T. P.||White, S.|
|Meynell, Captain||Wilson, H.|
|Morpeth, Viscount||Wodehouse, E.|
|Mostyn, hon. E.||Wood, C.|
|O'Ferrall, R. M.||Young, J.|
|Parnell, rt. hn. Sir H.||TELLERS.|
|Parry, Sir L. P. J.||Maule, hon. F.|
|Pechell, Captain||Stanley, E.|
§ The returns moved for by the Chancellor of the Exchequer were ordered.