HC Deb 17 June 1851 vol 117 cc950-3

said, he had never been able to learn upon what ground the Universities assumed a monopoly in the printing of the Bible, further than a decision in a court of law some years ago, which he believed was still binding. The highest authorities had recently given their testimony as to the immense advantages resulting from the diffusion of the Bible amongst the people, and it was manifest that any monopoly such as that sanctioned by the Queen's printers' patent tended to impede that diffusion, and thereby deprive the people of this country of the blessings which would otherwise flow upon them. The monopoly had expired in Scotland, and the result had been a vast increase to the enlightenment, and a great improvement in the morals of the people, occasioned by a more extensiver eading of the Holy Scriptures. Not only were the Bibles printed in Scotland now cheaper than those printed under the monopoly, but they were considerably superior in point of accuracy. Bibles were now from 50 to 60 per cent cheaper than under the old system. The University Bibles could not be sold in the United States of America because they were so full of errors. Before the Committee, which he obtained some years ago on this subject, a University Bible was produced, in which there were no fewer than 12,000 errors, as printers would designate them. The Queen's printers, feeling that others were debarred from printing the Bible, fell into careless habits with regard to its printing. Chillingworth, in the reign of Charles I., had said that the Bible, and the Bible alone, was the religion of Protestants. If that were true, what madness then was it to restrict its sale, by giving a monopoly of its printing to a few individuals. In 1846, the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) stated in that House, that the degree to which the Bible was a sealed book, was most lamentable. The Queen, in Her reply to the address presented from the universities a few months ago, on the subject of the appointment of a Roman Catholic hierarchy, dwelt on the necessity of the rising portion of Her subjects being trained in a knowledge of the Holy Scriptures. The Archbishop of Canterbury, at the opening of the Crystal Palace, had prayed that God's glory might be increased by the diffusion of His holy word. But of what avail was it to talk in that strain when the people were prevented by Royal Letters Patent from purchasing at a cheap rate correct copies of the Holy Scriptures? The hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir R. Inglis) had disputed the opinion of the printer, Mr. Childs, who stated that he would undertake to print the whole of the Bibles at an average reduction of 40 per cent from the price now paid. Since the abolition of the monopoly in Scotland, a New Testament could be obtained for 6d. and a Bible for 1s., with 2d. for the binding. If that was the case, as stated by Mr. Childs, why should we allow this monopoly to exist, and pay the amount of large subscriptions to the printer instead of having the benefit of them to increase the circulation? There was a Bible Society in Norfolk, and he bad calculated that if they could have obtained Bibles at the prices which were paid for them in Scotland, 1,800,000 copies could have been distributed. The societies for the diffusion of the Scriptures collected subscriptions which were applied to reduce the price of the books, and every subscriber was entitled to receive a certain number of copies, but still the original price was kept higher than it ought to be. Every person that desired to see the Scriptures in all the cottages in the land would agree with him that the time was now come when every obstacle ought to be removed from their circulation. This was as regarded England. But this very Government had renewed the Letters Patent to the Queen's printer in Dublin, in consequence of which not a single copy bad been printed by him, and he prevented any one else from printing them. He (Mr. Hume) had been now at this work for the last twenty years, and it would be a great gratification to him if he could see a termination to it.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will be graciously pleased to direct that measures may be adopted to cancel the Queen's Printers' Patent, so far as relates to the monopoly of printing of Bibles, Psalms, and Prayer Books, in England and Ireland; and, if apprehensions be excited for the correctness of the Scripture text, that a Board be constituted in England and Ireland, as has been done in Scotland, for the revision before publication of all the editions that are to be printed.


seconded the Motion, and thanked the hon. Member for Montrose for his labours upon this subject. He was able to confirm fully what that hon. Member had stated with regard to the effect produced by the abolition of the monopoly in Scotland, in 1839. The price had been reduced by one-half, and the circulation increased in an equal proportion. The Board appointed in Scotland had also shown great vigilance in the discharge of its duties, and was entitled to the highest encomiums. It was very encouraging in these times to see that the Bible had such a large and increasing circulation in this country, as he was convinced it would tend to preserve the loyal and religious feelings of the people.


said, he hoped that hon. Members would show the Speaker and the House some mercy. They had been in that House at Two o'clock this morning—they had met again at Two in the day, and they should have to meet again To-morrow morning.


would not occupy the House long in his observations upon this Motion. It was hardly necessary to say that they must all concur with the hon. Member for Montrose in desiring the greatest possible circulation to be given to the Scriptures throughout the country; and it was most desirable that no monopoly should exist that tended to enhance the price of the Bible, provided that due care was taken to secure accuracy in the text. He apprehended that to secure that accuracy was the original object in granting these patents to the Queen's printer. He admitted that in Scotland the Board to which reference had been made had worked in a manner fully equal to the expectations of those who had constituted it, and that very beneficial results had followed from its constitution. But without entering into the question of whether it was desirable that the patents should be granted or not, there was an objection to the Motion on the face of it, as it assumed that the Crown had a power which it really did not possess. These patents were granted in England and Scotland under the Act of 21 James I., cap. 3, and his hon. Friend was wrong in saying that the patent had been revoked in Scotland. [MR. Hume: I said expired.] He had misunderstood the hon. Member. It was on the expiration, and not en the revocation of the patent in 1839 that the Board had been appointed. The patent in question had nine years to run yet, and the hon. Gentleman in asking the Crown to revoke it, even if the Crown had the power to do so, was expecting an interference which would not be strictly legal; but as the Crown had granted this patent under an Act of Parliament, it could not be revoked by the power of the Crown, and the hon. Gentleman ought to have moved for leave to bring in a Bill for the purpose. Some of the observations of the hon. Gentleman confuted some of his own charges. He (Sir G. Grey) knew that bibles were now selling in England in sheets, the Old Testament at 6d., and the New Testament at 2d.; indeed, so low was the price, that the Queen's printer was able to compete with the Scottish hoard, and to undersell the printers in America. He did not say that was any reason for continuing the monopoly, but it was sufficient to refute any alleged necessity for violent interference with the patent. He hoped the House would not interfere with it, as the period during which it had to run was now so short.


thought the hon. Gentleman would never propose revoking the patent without offering com-compensation, probably of 200,000l. or 300,000l., but he doubted whether he was prepared to give that amount. Great praise had been given to the bibles of two centuries since for correctness, the edition of 1563 especially. He could refer to four instances which were too ridiculous to be noticed in the House.


said, he would not divide the House, but it was a strong argument against the monopoly that ten years of it should be valued at 300,000l. He hoped, after this, that the Government and those who clamoured so much in that House would let them hear no more about the dangers of Popery, when they would not part with a few pounds to get rid of such a monopoly.

Question put, and negatived.

The House adjourned at a quarter before One o'clock.