The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that, in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to the Stamp Duties upon Newspapers, he would not detain the House at any length. By the 6 &7 Will. 4, chap. 76, which was the Act imposing a duty on newspapers, a definition was given of what should he considered a newspaper within the meaning of the Act, and it was as follows:—Any paper containing public news, intelligence, or occurrences printed in any part of the United Kingdom to be dispersed and made public; also any paper printed in any part of the United Kingdom weekly or oftener, or at intervals not exceeding twenty-six days, containing only or principally advertisements; and also any paper containing any public news, intelligence, or occurrences, or any remarks or observations thereon, printed in any part of the United Kingdom for sale, and published periodically, or in parts, or numbers, at intervals not exceeding twenty-six days between the publication of any two such papers, parts, or numbers, where any of the said papers, parts, or numbers respectively shall not exceed two sheets of the dimensions hereinafter specified (exclusive of any cover or blank leaf, or any other leaf upon which any advertisement or other notice shall be printed), or shall be published for sale for a less sum than 6d, exclusive of the duty by this Act imposed thereon.Now, a paper called the Household Narrative of Current Events had been published by Messrs. Bradbury and Evans, and it was the opinion of the Stamp Office that that paper, although published at intervals of more than twenty-six days, was liable to stamp duty, and, accordingly, an information was filed against the publishers to recover the penalties incurred, the 1046 object being to decide whether the publication was liable to stamp duty or not. An argument took place in the Exchequer, and the result was, that three of the four Judges were of opinion that the paper was not liable to duty, but the fourth, Mr. Baron Parke, was of opinion that it was liable. The difference of the opinion of the Judges turned entirely on the question whether the definitions he (the Attorney General had read, were separate and distinct definitions, or whether the third definition was a qualification of the former. The three Judges thought it was a qualification of the former; but Mr. Baron Parke considered it a separate definition. The argument took place before the present Government came into office, and when he (the Attorney General) became Attorney General he found the law officers of the former Government were of opinion that the decision of the Exchequer was not satisfactory, and that it was necessary to take the opinion of a higher Court of appeal. He certainly should have agreed in the course taken by his predecessors, and, finding their opinion so expressed, an appeal to the Court of Exchequer Chamber was determined on. The House would recollect that great anxiety was manifested as to those proceedings in the Exchequer, and the course that would be adopted by the Government; and questions had been put to him with very great courtesy by hon. Gentlemen on the other side, and he had explained to them as well as he could the state of the question. However, his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought it was right to adhere to the opinion expressed by the majority of the Court of Exchequer, and was extremely desirous, for the sake of literature, and to prevent the litigation likely to occur, that a measure should be introduced that should support that opinion. It was under these circumstances that he asked leave now to introduce a Bill to repeal that portion of the schedule to which he had called attention, and upon which the doubt rested, and give a substantive definition of a newspaper, which would exclude from the operation of the stamp duty the publication in question and other publications of a like nature, containing news, but not published at intervals of less than twenty-six days. He hoped hon. Gentlemen would not think it necessary to avail themselves of the opportunity of the introduction of this Bill for entering into any discussion of that very 1047 wide question, "taxes on knowledge," as they termed it, which could only have the effect of impeding a measure the object of which was to put a stop to litigation; but that they would consent as rapidly as possible to allow the Bill to pass into a law.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, that he had no wish to enter into the general question, but he wished to advert to a point of form. The hon. and learned Attory General said that he was going to introduce a Bill to declare what a newspaper was in such a way as to exclude from the operation of the present Newspaper Stamp Act certain monthly publications. He (Mr. Gibson) thought, however, that the definition which the hon. and learned Gentleman had given would extend the operation of the Stamp Act to publications which were not now liable to duty; and if that were so, he presumed that the House should resolve itself into a Committee upon the Newspaper Stamp Laws before the Bill was introduced. He thought that the proposed Bill would extend the operation of the Stamp Act, because, from the hon. and learned Attorney General's remarks, it appeared that no papers were for the future to be considered newspapers which were published at a longer interval than once in twenty-six days, but that all papers published at less intervals than twenty-six days were to be considered newspapers. At present all papers of more than two sheets, and at a higher price than 6d., might be published more frequently than once in twenty-six days, without being liable to Stamp Duty. These, however, would be brought under the operation of the Stamp Act by the new definition given by the hon. and learned Attorney General, and therefore he thought that the introduction of the Bill should be preceded by a Committee of the whole House. Great injustice had been done to small newspaper proprietors throughout the country whose monthly papers had been suppressed by letters from the Inland Revenue Office. When, however, they proceeded against Mr. Dickens, a gentleman of great influence and popularity, they were frightened out of their proceedings, and brought in a Bill to declare that these publications never had been newspapers. What compensation did they intend to offer to those persons whose papers had been suppressed on the ground that they were newspapers? He was convinced that when the new Bill came to be discussed it would appear that 1048 the new definition of a newspaper was just as unsound as the old one; and; if under it they prosecuted persons for publishing unstamped papers, they would again be obliged to introduce a new declaratory Bill. In a future stage of the Bill he should feel it his duty to point out how completely inadequate this Bill would be to define what was a newspaper. In conclusion, he begged to ask the opinion of Mr. Speaker upon the point of form to which he had alluded?
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, that no doubt, if the effect of the Bill was to impose an additional Stamp Duty, it should be introduced by a Committee of the whole House; it was, however, impossible for him to say whether this would be its effect until it was introduced, and he had an opportunity of examining it.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
would suggest whether it would not be better for the hon. and learned Attorney General to keep himself on the safe side, and to move the Bill in a Committee of the whole House?
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, that in his opinion, the Bill would not bring within the definition of newspapers publications not now liable to the Stamp Duties. He would, therefore, take his chance, and beg leave to introduce the Bill then.
§ Leave given.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Attorney General and Mr. Solicitor General.