§ MR. MILNER GIBSON,
having presented petitions from the proprietors of the Manchester Examiner and the Coventry Herald, for the repeal of the advertisement duty, and from a great number of places for the removal of that and similar imposts, said: Sir, I propose to submit to the House a Motion, consisting of three separate Resolutions. I have thus acted in consequence of having observed, that although the three duties or taxes to which my Resolutions relate, may appear in the minds of many persons to be unconnected taxes, yet for the last 130 years they have been dealt with by the Legislature at the same time, or nearly at the same time; and although they may seem to be distinct matters, yet I view them as parts of a system and policy which has been enforced in this country, to a certain extent, for the purpose of restraining the press. These duties were imposed and were reduced about the same time; but I do not now call upon the House, by embracing the three taxes in one Resolution, to commit themselves by a single vote to the full extent of my own proposition. The Resolutions will be submitted separately; and to vote upon one does not commit any Gentleman to the others. I entertain my own opinion upon the expediency of dealing with them all; but I have not presumed to ask the House to go so far with me as to record their votes in support of one broad and comprehensive Resolution embracing these three taxes. It may be said, as a preliminary objection, that I ought to have waited, previously to dealing with a subject of this kind, until the House was in possession of the financial views of the Government, and until they had heard the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the position of the public revenue and the expenditure of the country. Sir, I have had some experience in bringing forward this Motion— not in this Parliament, it is true, but in other Parliaments. I have brought this 1118 Motion on before the Budget; and I have submitted it after the Budget; and my experience does not tell me that my position was in the least benefited by my having deferred it till after the Budget. It appears to me, Sir, that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer should have introduced any part of this scheme into his financial proposals, he will not be placed in any worse position for having had a vote of this House in favour of the proposition. On the contrary, I conceive that the right hon. Gentleman's hands will be strengthened by it. But if, on the other hand, he has not adopted any portion of my proposal in his Budget, who can say whether a vote of the House of Commons may not suggest to the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, even between the present time and the period at which he will submit his financial statement, the propriety of dealing with this important subject? I do not imagine that I am in the slightest degree trenching upon the legitimate functions of a Member of the House of Commons in inviting discussion either before or after the Budget upon any part of the taxation of the country; for, be it recollected, that, besides the question of the amount of money to be raised for the service of the State, there is another question—namely, whether the money is to be raised in that manner which best consults the interests and welfare of the nation? There are many ways of raising a given sum; but whether better ways than those in operation exist, is a matter for discussion, entirely independent of the amount required, and this, of all subjects, is that which most devolves upon independent Members to consider; for I have observed that Chancellors of the Exchequer are generally content with the good the gods provide them; and they are seldom willing to look into the mode in which the money is raised, if the country cheerfully submits to have it raised in the manner which has prevailed. Therefore I thus dispose of this preliminary objection against Members of Parliament bringing forward Motions of this kind either before or after the Budget. The first Resolution I have to submit to the House is, "That the advertisement duty ought to be repealed." That relates to a small amount of revenue, about 180,000l., and I will show that there are reasons for believing that that revenue will be speedily replaced. My second Resolution, hon. Gentlemen will observe, raises a question of policy, has reference to the unsatisfac- 1119 tory state of the press laws, and can hardly be said to relate to revenue at all. At any rate I shall be able to show that the changes which I recommend may be adopted by Parliament without any considerable portion at least of the public revenue being sacrificed. The last Resolution, I admit, does affect a considerable amount of public revenue. It deals with an amount, I believe, of something like 900,000l.; but if hon. Members will do me the favour to consider the wording of this Resolution, they will see that it does not pledge this House to any immediate repeal of the duty on paper. It only recommends the House to record its opinion, that to maintain the duty on paper as a permanent source of revenue—as a good tax—is a policy which ought not to be sanctioned, and that at an early period, when the circumstances of the country will permit, with safety to the revenue, the step ought to be taken of total abolition of this duty. It may be said that this is an abstract Resolution, and that there is no practical utility in asking of the House to commit itself for the future by voting a Motion of this description. There is force in that objection, but nevertheless I would not have the House suppose that upon no occasion can abstract Resolutions be submitted to them with advantage. I have known greatly beneficial results arise from abstract Resolutions. I would beg leave to remind hon. Gentlemen that one of the very first Acts of the present Parliament was to pass an abstract Resolution, with the consent of the leaders on both sides, to the effect that they would maintain and prudently extend the free-trade policy; and that did undoubtedly commit them to deal with the public revenue before the period when the precise propositions could be submitted to Parliament. So my Resolution, with regard to paper, simply recommends the House prudently, and when occasion permits. to deal with this tax as one unfitted for permanency, which bears on the moral and educational interests of the country, and is contrary to the policy which Parliament is now pursuing for the purpose of promoting education amongst the great masses of the community. I might point out various mischiefs resulting from this tax in a commercial point of view; but probably my argument would be common to the other excise duties; and would, perhaps, not apply with greater weight to paper than to soap and the other existing 1120 exciseable articles. But there is a certain peculiarity about paper, in its being connected with the diffusion of knowledge amongst the people, which does not apply to those other excise duties. Even in a commercial view, I think there are also some peculiarities about it. Paper is an article which is manufactured from a worthless raw material, and nearly the whole of its value, therefore, consists in the labour which has been bestowed upon it. It employs men, women, and children. It is likewise a rural manufacture. The paper mills are spread over the country districts, and there is no class so interested in widening and developing the manufacture of paper as the residents in the various counties. There is some uneasiness at this time in reference to the greatly increasing departure of labourers from this land; but if you wish to stay the tide of emigration, then, I say, open the field of employment at home by removing this oppressive excise duty upon paper, which prevents the development of this important manufacture in our agricultural districts. By so doing you will be able to give profitable employment to the families of labourers at home, and you will retain them in this country; whereas if you allow the field of employment to be contracted by this duty, you must, of necessity, be less able to retain your labour, which will flow to other lands where such manufactures are unrestricted. What is going on now? Why, the refuse from which paper is made is being purchased in this country, is carried to lands where no paper duty exists, is manufactured into paper, and then sent out to the British Colonies to supply your own population. Can that be a wise and judicious policy? This is no class question—no manufacturer's or country gentleman's question exclusively; the advantage will be shared, no doubt, by all classes; but in reference to the development of the manufacture, it appears to me that, inasmuch as paper mills can only exist where there are pure streams and a country population, the representatives of counties, of all persons, have the greatest interest in getting rid of this excise duty on paper. These are a few of the passing allusions which I have ventured to throw out upon a commercial view of the subject. When the Commissioners reported upon the different branches of the excise system, they recommended paper to be dealt with. They did not think that the duty should be abolished, because the circumstances of the country 1121 did not then admit of it, but they took especial care to guard themselves from being supposed to contemplate these duties on paper as a permanent source of revenue. For what did they say?—We trust that in submitting, as the result of our inquiries into this branch of excise taxation, a recommendation for the diminution of the present rate of duty, rather than for its total repeal, we shall not be considered as conveying any approval of this head of duty.They go on to say—In the meantime, however, and until circumstances shall admit of realising the still more beneficial effects which would result from a total abolition of the duty, we are satisfied that the reduction to one-half the present rate of duty would be very advantageous.But, Sir, the ground upon which I have proposed my Motion is its connexion with the diffusion of knowledge by the means of cheap literature through this country. The Legislature have always admitted that the duty on paper has a pernicious effect upon the diffusion of knowledge. In the Statute of Anne, when the duty on paper was first imposed, there was a clause to this effect:—That, as an encouragement to learning, so much money as shall from time to time be paid for duty on paper, and in printing any books in the Latin, Greek, or Oriental languages, in the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, shall be repaid.At the present moment the duty is remitted on all paper used for the Bibles and Testaments that are printed in those Universities. This is an admission that the duty has an effect in preventing the diffusion of knowledge. Well, then, I say that, if in the days of Anne they thought it necessary to legislate for the spread of learning written in the Oriental languages, in Greek, and in Latin, we have arrived at a period when we ought to recommend the policy of removing all obstacles from the diffusion of knowledge in the English language amongst the great masses of the people. The question of the paper duty on expensive books is not the issue I raise. It will be no answer to tell me that a three volume novel would not be rendered perceptibly cheaper if we repealed the duty on paper, or that a large book like M'Culloch's Dictionary, would not be sold for a perceptibly smaller amount if we abolished the tax on the raw material. That is not the question. The question is the pressure of the duty on cheap and extensively circulated literature, in which the cost of the paper is a principal consideration; and of 1122 which the duty raises the price far more than the amount of the impost itself. I have received a communication from Mr. Charles Knight, whose letter I quoted on a former occasion, and who has written to me again expressing his satisfaction that the question was again to be brought forward. He puts the case so forcibly in a few short paragraphs, that I shall take the liberty of reading them:—During the last twenty years especially, I have been labouring to produce books which should unite literary excellence with exceeding cheapness. I paid 40,000l. for the copyright of the Penny Cyclopædia. When the book was finished, I had paid to the Excise 16,500l. upon the paper used in that work. But the actual duty paid was almost doubled by the necessary increase of the manufacturer's prices produced by the duty, and by the accumulation of stock. That great national work would only have paid its expenses had there been no paper duty at all. But the copyright of that Cyclopædia remains my property, and I am about to produce an improved Cyclopædia. If I produce an expensive edition, which would remunerate me by a sale of 2,000, at a cost of 20l. per copy, the paper will cost about 5,000l., of which the actual duty will be about 1,000l. But if I rely upon a very large demand, and make my estimates upon a sale of 20,000 at 6l. per copy, the paper will cost 30,000l., of which the duty will be 6,000l. If I produce a dear book for the few, the State will tax me 1,000l.; if a cheap book for the many, I shall be taxed 6,000l.Well, Sir, is this the policy which we can justify when we are endeavouring to diffuse education amongst the people? If you raise the cost of the paper for cheap literature, you strike off the funds out of which the authors must be paid; and you prevent men of the ablest talent from addressing themselves to the great masses of the people. If you have this enormous sum of the duty on the paper to replace out of the sale of these small publications, you leave nothing to pay the original authorship; and, I would ask, is it desirable that the best minds of this country should be prevented from receiving remuneration from cheap literature, and that thus, instead of diffusing their influence over the great body of the people, they should limit their powers to the production of expensive books for the few? This appears to me the strongest possible argument against the paper duty—that it is antagonistic to a good cheap literature. Penny publications you will have; but if you wish to combine goodness with cheapness, you must endeavour to remove all obstacles in the way of the cost of the material of which these cheap publications are composed, or you have nothing left wherewith to pay the authors. I, therefore, confidently appeal to the right 1123 hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take into his consideration, when the circumstances of the country will permit it, the oppressive nature of this duty upon paper. Mr. Knight says, in one of his works, that during a period of twenty years, he has paid about 80,000l. to authors and to literary men for their labours, and that he has paid 50,000l. to the State in paper duty, in order to give the benefit to the public of the compositions of those literary men. So that 80,000l. worth of intellect and knowledge, before you can circulate it in the limited way in which it is now circulated, he has had to pay no less a sum than a toll of 50,000l. to the State: 50,000l. for circulating 80,000l. worth of intellect through a country which is constantly proclaiming to the world the great desire which it has to diffuse knowledge and to promote education amongst the people. We at this time are unable, from the difficulties of our position, to pass an educational measure. We are compelled to resort to all manner of petty expedients and partial legislation, in order to get education bit by bit through the country. But here is a plan, at least, which you can adopt, which is free from your religions controversies—free from the conflict between voluntary and State education—and all that you are asked to do is to remove those obstructions which prevent the people from educating themselves. How much does it increase the risk of literary speculations, when we consider that the duty upon paper must all be paid in advance—that there are no drawbacks, no bonding of paper and taking it out as it is consumed—but when a man enters on a literary speculation, he must print the number of copies of a work that he intends to sell, and if the work fails to sell, there is no return to him of the duty he has paid to the State, in the ineffectual effort he has made to diffuse knowledge amongst the people. If he is a dealer in tobacco, or brandy, he may, by bonding, pay his duty when he sells the article to the consumer; but if he is a dealer in knowledge he must incur all the speculative risks I have mentioned, and this makes it a serious matter of consideration, indeed, when we hear that such sums as 16,000l., or even 20,000l., have to be replaced for paper duty, before any man will undertake a large and expensive literary speculation. If he does, he must take care not to venture upon expensive authorship, or making his work really a beneficial and useful work to society. He 1124 has enough to do to consider how he is to replace this paper duty by the sale of his work, which, I contend, throws the greatest difficulties in the way of literary speculations. Many and many is the work, even with a good sale, where the duty on the paper has amounted to far more than was left to pay the author. I wish not to detain the House, or I could mention numerous instances in the works upon this subject, where particular books and publications are named, where, when the duty on the paper was replaced, having been advanced by the publisher, there was nothing left to pay the author for his labour; nothing left to encourage future authors to devote their talents to enlighten the public. This is not becoming a country which is in favour of education, because it ought to do all that in it lies, not only to remove these obstructions to the diffusion of good cheap literature, but also to remove the impediments which prevent the best and ablest men from turning their minds to the instruction of the masses, and thus to make good authors feel that if they devote their time and labour to the benefit of the many, instead of the few, they will be rewarded. I know of nothing that can be done so calculated to promote the interests of authors and literary men, and to furnish rewards for good literary labour, as the repeal of the duty on paper. Recollect, Sir, you cannot get it by adding to the price of the small publication. If you want to command a large circulation, you must go to the penny publication, like the Penny Cyclopædia. You cannot say that, in consequence of there being a duty on paper, it shall be sold at ld. and a small fraction. There is no such course open to you. If you increase the price to 1½d. or 2d., as the Messrs. Chambers attempted to do, then the sale decreases, and you do not get the circulation. You are limited to the penny; therefore you ought to remove those duties which prevent the penny covering the cost of paper and the duty, so as to leave a fair profit to the author and the publisher. But, having taxed the paper, which is a vehicle of knowledge, the State is not satisfied. It says, "There are two particular kinds of information, which, if printed upon paper, shall each, under certain conditions, bear other taxes—a duty of ls. 6d. upon each announcement known by the name of an advertisement, if it is printed on this paper—and another tax if a particular kind of knowledge called news is printed upon this paper." Is it conceiv- 1125 able that, if Parliament had in former times had nothing in view but to derive a revenue from paper, when they had put a tax upon paper, they should immediately set to work to impose other taxes to prevent people making use of this paper, thus lessening the revenue, the increase of which they professed to have in view? If you put a duty on carriages, would you also put a toll upon every man that gets into a carriage, and make it his interest to ride in some other description of vehicle? No; you would rather desire, I should fancy, to encourage the use of these vehicles, in order, that having taxed them, to procure the greatest amount of revenue from them. Nothing of the kind is done in reference to paper. Take the case of an advertisement. If a man makes an announcement by word of mouth, you put no duty upon it. If he make an announcement by a crier—by the bellman—you put no duty upon that. If he uses an advertising van, you put no duty upon it. But if he has it printed in a paper, frequently, periodically, then the exciseman interposes, and charges this duty of ls. 6d. for each announcement; thus making it the direct interest of everybody to avoid, if possible, making announcements in this manner. And as that is only in the case of the announcement being made periodically, it is a direct hindering of the growth of the periodical press. If a man advertises in a newspaper, one would suppose that he is adopting the most obvious and rational mode of making known his wants; because it is the newspaper, of all things, from its frequent issues, that gives that frequent publicity which is so desirable for advertisers. But when he advertises in a newspaper, he finds the exciseman there, who says that no announcement shall be made without this toll of ls. 6d. being paid to the State. It is a barbarous tax. Is there anything so essential to society as that all should be capable of communicating to each other their mutual wants? Does it not lie at the very root of all our progress—at the very root of all commercial transactions? For every communication that you prevent by this tax, is it not probable that you prevent some commercial transaction that might be beneficial to those engaged in it, and also beneficial to society. But what a monstrous thing it was, that when the Amazon steamship was lost, or when there was an Irish famine, and when it was necessary, by repeated advertisements, to arrest public at- 1126 tention to those calamities, the exciseman required that there should be ls. 6d. paid upon every one of these announcements; thus converting the advertisement duty into a tax upon calamity, and causing the funds of subscribers, who fancied that they were contributing to an Irish famine, or to the orphans and widows of men lost in the Amazon, to contribute to your State necessities, and to pay a portion of their contribution into the Board of Inland Revenue. It appears to me that this is a kind of tax which we ought not to encourage in a commercial country; for is it possible to conceive anything more unwise than to stand in the way of communications between men desirous of effecting commercial exchanges that operate favourably upon the customs and general revenue of the country. Talk of the inequality of the tax—I know it has been frequently mentioned that a poor servant maid has to pay as heavy a toll to the State for making it known that she wants a place, as a Peer of Parliament has to pay for making it known that he has an estate to dispose of. Everybody is aware of this gross inequality; but the strength of the argument, I contend, lies against the tax altogether. I say it is a tax only worthy of a barbarous country. It is a sort of shortsighted attempt to get a little revenue at the expense of the most valuable interests of the country, and probably destroying, in other ways, a great deal more revenue than it creates. Can anything be more unjust, also, than its application exclusively to the newspaper and periodical press? I know the Act of Parliament says that advertisements shall be taxed when inserted in a book as well as in a periodical. But the law is not enforced. Books insert advertisements; and no duty is in practice levied upon them. Look at the unfairness of this competition between the book containing advertisements and the newspaper. Take the catalogue of the Great Exhibition. In that volume, purchased by thousands and thousands of persons at one shilling, you will find no less than fifty-three pages of advertisements, not one of which paid any advertisement duty. Can there be a more favourable mode of advertising than in a catalogue to be circulated amongst many thousands of people? And, when the new Crystal Palace is opened, I have no doubt that the catalogue of the various matters therein contained will be accompanied, perhaps, by hundreds of pages of advertisements, not one of the number paying toll to the State; 1127 while the unfortunate, struggling proprietor of a newspaper is not allowed to insert the slightest announcement without being pounced upon by the Board of Inland Revenue, and having this tax exacted from him. Why do not the Board enforce the law? Because they dare not. Because they know that, if they were to enforce the law as it is upon the Statute-book, there would be such strong remonstrances that they would have to abandon the tax. Every statesman has admitted, that when a tax arrives at that point that the Legislature cannot, by any means in its power, protect the fair dealer from the smuggler—when it is impossible to avoid unfair competition—statesmen of every school have admitted that the time is come for the repeal of that tax. I say you cannot protect the newspaper and periodical from unfair competition by untaxed advertisements in other ways. To give you an idea of this, here is a prospectus of a railway advertising association. I will read an extract from it:—The importance of this novel system of advertising cannot be too highly estimated, when it is remembered that railway travellers include within their numbers every individual of rank, property, or influence in the three Kingdoms, while the frequency of their journeyings may be calculated from the fact that the number of passengers booked in Great Britain alone, in the year 1850, exceeded 60,000,000. It must be borne in mind, that these immense numbers—the possessors of the aggregate wealth of the country —are concentrated, day by day, at the railway stations; and the circumstances of each journey are such, that either on the departure or arrival, or in the course of transit, every passenger must of necessity become acquainted with the announcements which present themselves to his notice. It may be safely asserted, that no other mode of advertising presents so favourable a means of reaching that class which the advertiser desires most to attract.This may be all very true; but is it just to the newspaper proprietor to tax the advertisements in his columns, and to leave untaxed those published in railway carriages, which present such great advantages to the advertising public? I call upon the House to record their vote that the advertisement duty is an unjust tax— is an unequal tax—and strikes at the root of those communications of mutual want which are necessary for the progress and the welfare of the country. I call upon them to vote that it is a tax upon calamity; that it is a tax which is not capable of being enforced even as it now stands upon the Statute-book; and that it ought to be repealed. No reduction do I ask for. If you merely reduce this tax, you leave 1128 these inequalities and this unfair competition completely unredressed. You will find it impossible to impose your reduced advertisement duty upon the man who paints the pavement of the streets with his advertisement, or the man who goes about with his advertising van, or the man who advertises in these catalogues. You cannot enforce your tax, however small, against these classes; therefore I call upon you, in justice to the newspaper press of this country, which ought not to be exposed to this unequal struggle, to repeal this tax. The advertisement fund is the fund which forms the legitimate support of the newspaper press. The newspaper supplies publicity; the advertiser buys publicity, and has the article which he requires. Therefore, I say, do not take him away from the newspaper press. On the contrary, for the sake, I should say, of the independence of the newspaper, for the sake of those men who are struggling against great difficulties to give valuable organs of intelligence to the country, relieve them from this unequal contest. Long as this tax has lasted, it is not too late to do them an act of justice; though many of them, I believe, are so far injured by the unjust system to which they have been exposed, that probably it is beyond the power of this House to recover them from the effects of that injustice to which they have been so long exposed. The repeal of the tax has been opposed on the ground that we could not spare the revenue it supplied. But shall we, after all, lose any revenue; and if we do, what is it? The whole amount is 178,000l. per annum. We do not generally show such delicacy in dealing with the public money, and are not generally so timid at the sound of a large sum that we should be frightened, even if we did risk revenue to the amount of 178,000l. But will not that be supplied? Does not every advertisement give rise more or less to correspondence? There are in the United Kingdom in round numbers 2,000,000 of advertisements in one year; perhaps somewhat more. In the United States, with the same population, there are 11,000,000 of advertisements published every year. There is no advertisement duty there; and yet, under your free-trade system, you are called upon to compete with a country which has that enormous advantage of communicating freely, without let or hindrance, all its mutual wants. But I ask, as there are 11,000,000 of advertisements 1129 in the United States, and only 2,000,000 here, is it not probable that in this country—similar in many respects to the people of the United States as the people of this country are—that our advertisements would very materially increase if the impediment of a duty was removed? If they do increase, does not the advertisement give rise to letters of inquiry, to applications in consequence of the announcement? I have received a letter to-day from Mr. Edward Baines, the proprietor of the Leeds Mercury, a highly respectable and highly influential provincial journal. He states that, on an average, eight letters are received for each advertisement, but that in some instances 200 letters have arrived for one advertisement. Taking merely the average mentioned here—eight letters for each advertisement—if the advertisements increase by an amount of 5,000,000, the revenue will be replaced by the postage charge upon letters alone. The revenue will be upwards of 166,000l. for these additional letters; and thus, if we are to believe that what has happened in other cases will happen as to the increased number of advertisements, we shall not lose any revenue at all, but we shall replace it to nearly the full amount, with the great additional advantage of setting free this mode of communication throughout the country. Everybody must be aware that advertisements do give rise to a vast deal of correspondence. An association in Holborn inserted an advertisement in the Times; they paid the 1s. 6d. duty; they received 500 answers; so that they paid in pennies to the Post Office 2l, 1s. 8d. Suppose that had been the case of a poor clerk advertising for an office or for employment, he might have been deterred by the price of the advertisement from putting it in, and the revenue would have lost 2l. 1s. 8d. through having stopped that man by its toll from putting his advertisement in the paper. Mr. Byles, of Bradford, put an adversisement in the Leeds Mercury, and paid ls. 6d. duty. He got fifty letters in consequence—thus causing an increase of revenue of 4s. 2d. Mr. Watkinson, of Spalding, inserted an advertisement in the Spalding Free Press, Stamford Mercury, and Lincolnshire Chronicle, paying 4s. 6d. duty, and received 100 answers, paying a postage of 8s. 4d., to which he wrote 100 replies, paying another 8s. 4d. Three persons inserted twenty-five advertisements in the Leicester Mercury, paying 37s. 6d. duty, 1130 and received 300 answers each, paying in postage 3l. 15s.; and Mr. Pitman, of Guildford, inserted one advertisement in the Times, paying 1s. 6d., and received forty-three answers, paying in postage 3s. 7d., to which he wrote forty-two replies, paying in postage 3s. 6d. But, independently of the number of letters which each particular advertisement gives rise to, through the transactions arising from these announcements, there is a still further correspondence and a still further consequent addition to the public revenue. On the face of these facts, I feel confident the House will admit that I have submitted a fair case for asking for a vote for the repeal of this duty. And let it be remembered that the unfortunate proprietor of the periodical is not required to pay the advertisement duty only upon those announcements for which he receives payment himself. If, for the purpose of giving utility to his paper, he inserts gratuitously announcements of certain coming events, he is frequently charged with the advertisement duty. This appears to me a great injustice—that, when the owner of a periodical inserts gratuitously announcements which are really nothing more than pieces of news or intelligence, he should be made to pay a toll of 1s. 6d. for each of such announcements. This forms a very strong case in itself against the continuance of the present system, inasmuch as it appears to be a plan, not for promoting the revenue, but for crippling the newspaper press, and preventing them from making those announcements which would be beneficial to the public, and would contribute to their own utility. How absurd are the subterfuges which are resorted to to evade this—namely, that if a man makes an announcement he shall be liable to duty, if he does it even gratuitously. The Publishers' Circular advertises the new books that are published, but omits the publishers' names, to escape the advertisement duty. This information is inserted for the benefit of their readers, without being paid for; but they are not allowed to give it free from duty except in the inconvenient mode of omitting the publishers' names, so that those who see it do not know to whom to apply for a new book. In the case of books, the advertisement duty is most oppressive. A book is a thing that must be advertised. Bread, meat, and beverages men will think of and inquire for; but they do not instinctively know of a new book unless it is made known to them by advertisements in the pub- 1131 lic press. That is one of the chief items of cost in bringing out new books; there is the cost of advertising them, and thus the advertisement duty is turned into a tax upon knowledge, in addition to all the other evils that appertain to it, furnishing an additional argument why this House should sanction the repeal of that duty. I will now address myself to the second Resolution—that in reference to the policy of restraining the cheap periodical press from inserting news, and the maintenance of the present restriction on the press, with the unsatisfactory state of the law on the subject. I have a justification for submitting this matter to the House. I was Chairman of a Committee of this House which inquired, in a former Parliament, into the working of the stamp duty on newspapers; and that Committee recommended in their Report that the attention of Parliament should be drawn to the anomalies of the stamp duty, to the state of the law, and to the mischief of the policy of preventing cheap periodicals from containing news. It is said that this is a question of revenue. I contest altogether that view of the question. From the time when the press had influence in this country—to go back to the earliest period—there has been legislation for the purpose of restraining it. You had the censorship —you had the licensing system—both of which were abolished in 1694. During that period there was always a jealousy of what is called news. It was said that extreme political writings, and writings questioning the truths of religion, ought to be prevented. But if we look into the proceedings of those times, we shall find that there was something else which the authorities seemed always very much afraid of; and that was the circulation of news, and the narration to the country of the current events of the day. We find this paragraph in the London Gazette of May 5th, 1680. I quote it to show you what the policy in those days was:—This day the Judges made their Report to His Majesty in Council, in pursuance of an order of this board, by which they unanimously declare that his Majesty may by law prohibit the printing and publishing of all new books and pamphlets of news, not licensed by His Majesty's authority, as manifestly tending to the breach of the peace and disturbance of the Kingdom. Whereupon a proclamation was issued restraining the printing of new books and pamphlets of news without leave.This restraining of news continued down to 1694, and expired with the general 1132 licensing system. The authorities then went on for a few years without interfering with the press; but in the latter part of the reign of Queen Anne, "regular newspapers," wrote Mr. Hallam, in his Constitutional History—not merely designed for the communication of intelligence, but for the discussion of political topics, obtained great circulation, and became the accredited organs of different factions.The Tory Ministers were annoyed at the vivacity of the press, both in periodical and other writings, which led to the Stamp Duty, intended chiefly to diminish their number, and was nearly producing more pernicious restrictions, such as renewing the Licensing Act, or compelling authors to acknowledge their names.They did not renew the Licensing Act, indeed, which had been abolished, but, with the same intention, they adopted the stamp duty on newspapers, for the purpose of lessening the number of those papers. In 1712 a message came down from the Crown, calling upon this House to restrain the press; various Resolutions were proposed, and were adjourned from time to time; and at last, as history tells us, a Committee of Ways and Means suggested the idea whether the object in view, namely, the restraining of the press, might not be accomplished by a heavy tax upon all newspapers and printed pamphlets. That is to be found in the journals of this House. Such was the origin of the stamp duty on newspapers. Passing over the various Acts by which the stamp was continued, I now come to the Act 60 Geo. III., c. 9, one of Lord Castlereagh's Six Acts, by which the stamp duty was extended and increased in amount, and the preamble of which fairly set forth—Whereas it is expedient to restrain the small publications which issue from the press in great numbers and at a low price, be it therefore enacted, that a Stamp Duty shall be imposed on every paper containing public news, intelligence, occurrences, or any remarks or observations thereupon.It does not say, for the purpose of granting a supply to His Majesty, but "for the purpose of restraining small publications containing news." There can be no doubt that, down to 60 Geo. III., this stamp was for the purpose then, as it had been in the reign of Anne, of restraining the press. Some Gentlemen will say, notwithstanding the preamble of the Act, that the statesmen of that time meant it partly as a matter of revenue, and partly as a matter of policy. I have referred to the debates on the passing of this Act, 60 Geo. III., cap. 9, a part of which is now in 1133 force, and which by a recent decision of the Judges of the Court of Exchequer gave the definition of a newspaper which now has the force of law; in point of fact, the newspaper press, with the exception of the amount of duty, is now regulated by the same restrictions as were introduced in this Act of Lord Castlereagh's. Lord Ellenborough gave some explanation of the intentions of his friends in imposing the stamp upon newspapers. In December, 1819, Lord Ellenborough, in the debate upon the Stamp Bill, said—It was not against the respectable press that this Bill was directed, but against a pauper press, which, administering to the prejudices and the passions of a mob, was converted to the basest purposes, which was an utter stranger to truth, and only sent forth a continued stream of falsehood and malignity—its virulence and its mischief heightening as it proceeded. If he was asked whether he would deprive the lowest classes of society of all political information, he would say, that he saw no possible good to be derived to the country from having statesmen at the loom and politicians at the spinning jenny."—[1 Hansard, xli. 1591].Legislation against libel may be all very proper, but why was this idea of libel so associated with the idea of cheap publications? Legislate against the poison, but don't legislate at the same time against the antidote. Give the people as much information as possible—give them facts—and they will not become the dupes of political or other impostors. The evil intended to be guarded against was political discussion, sedition, and irreligion; but the legislation was, in reality, only against news. You will find we have the authority of Lord Erskine on this subject, who left the following protest, the Newspaper Stamp Act of George III., on the books of the House of Lords:—Because by the stamp imposed by this Bill, and by its further directing recognisances to be entered into by the printers and publishers of the pamphlets and papers therein mentioned, and in sums so large and disproportionate to the probable credit of such persons, or the profits of such small publications, it is manifest (and has, indeed, been not very indistinctly admitted) that a discouragement amounting to almost a prohibition is thus suddenly aimed at a very large, and often useful, branch of trade.Because the great mass of British subjects have no surer means of being informed of what passes in Parliament and in the Courts of Justice, or of the general transactions of the world, than through cheap publications within their means of purchase; and I desire to express my dissent from that principle and opinion that the safety of the State and the happiness of the multitude in the labouring condition of life may be best secured by their being kept in igno- 1134 rance of political controversies and opinions, as I hold, on the contrary, that the Government of this country can only continue to be secure while it conducts itself with fidelity and justice, and as all its acts shall, as heretofore, be thoroughly known and understood by all classes of the people.Because this obstruction to the sale and circulation of small periodical publications is not confined to those of a political character, but most unaccountably extends to all such as shall contain any public news, intelligence, or occurrence, or any remark or observation thereon; a description which most obviously comprehends and involves all the transactions of human life upon which reasonable beings (putting national freedom wholly out of the question) can seek or desire to communicate with one another."—[1 Hansard, xli. 1591.]We have other authorities, for among the opponents of that Act of 60 Geo. 3, c. 9, were Sir James Mackintosh, Lord Brougham, Mr. Tierney, Viscount Althorp, Lord John Russell, and Sir James Graham—the distinguished leaders of the Whig party in that day, who, though smaller in number than the body who will now go into the lobby for the practical liberty of the press, still fought gallantly the good fight for freedom against Lord Castlereagh and the Ministers of that day. I call upon those of them who are left to refer back to the speeches which they then made, expressed with an ardour and in terms which I could now scarcely venture on—and in this day to act in consistency with the principles they then so nobly enunciated—and in these happier times, when we have a contented and prosperous population, when there are no apprehensions of disaffection or scenes of disorder, and when we are contemplating an extension of the suffrage, to let the precursor of enfranchisement be a free and unrestricted press, spreading to the masses that knowledge and that intelligence without which they cannot exercise their franchise with advantage to the country. I will proceed and bring you down to a later date. Many of the provisions of the Act of George III. were embodied in the Act of William IV., which is now in operation. The new Act reduced the stamp duty on papers from 4d. to ld.; but it did little more; all the old restrictions being left. On that occasion, when the present Newspaper Stamp Bill was proposed, Lord Lyndhurst, acting in co-operation with his party, said—and a distinguished Member of that party now in this House will perhaps remember the words—"Reduce the duty!—Why not bring in a Bill to repeal the stamp duty on newspapers altogether?" Lord Lansdowne replied to that remarkable question, and said— 1135The noble and learned Lord, in concurrence with parties with whom he would not offend the noble and learned Lord by saying he usually acted, declared himself anxious to take off the whole of the duty levied upon newspapers; but, under present circumstances, he was not prepared to say that the tax could, with safety, be remitted to that unqualified extent to which the noble and learned Lord expressed himself favourable.Mind that the term "safety," as the context shows, was not applied in reference to the revenue, but in reference to the policy of such a proceeding. Well, I ask, would it be safe now? Are there now any circumstances in existence which should prevent the leaders of all parties uniting in carrying out a liberal and fair policy in this matter? I hope I do not appeal in any party spirit; and I declare on my conscience that I am not regarding this as a party question. Surely all parties have a like interest in their own views being promulgated and diffused to the greatest possible extent. Surely we should all alike hail with exultation, rather than look with apprehension to a new means of spreading useful knowledge, aye, and political information. Lord Melbourne, who reduced the stamp duty, was taunted with having what was called "pandered" to the Radicals; and his answer was a reference to Lord Lyndhurst's speech. "Who," he asked, "is pandering to the Radicals now?" I should like to see such a competition again. But in these days it is no reproach against a man that he is a Radical. We have got a Radical in the Cabinet, and— what is more, acting with those who once were Conservative Ministers. We are losing, I hope, the old party watchwords; they are becoming matters of tradition; and every party, now, which aspires to power must found its claims upon proofs of its sincere desire to legislate, not for a class, but for the common benefit of the whole community. It may be thought that the reduction from 4d. to ld. was a great step; and that ld. is a small tax on a newspaper, after all. That ld. is not on publications, but on news. Penny publications there may be; but insert news and the paper becomes liable to the tax; the price must be advanced to 2d. Upon this part of the question Lord Brougham, in a letter recently written, said—Now, the stamp is by far the most hurtful of these bad taxes in one essential particular. The instruction of the working classes in the country districts, where it is most wanted, has been almost entirely prevented by it. When the Useful Knowledge Society made, for years, efforts of every kind to diffuse sound information among the pea- 1136 santry in the villages, cottages, and farm-houses, we were always met and defeated by this stamp. Our only chance of making those poor people read was, by wrapping up good information of a lasting value in news: especially news respecting farming matters and things in their own neighbourhood; but the penny stamp made this impossible. The paper of twelve octavo pages, of which four would have been newspaper and the other eight of a more general description and more permanent value, instructive or entertaining, or both, could easily have been sold for ld., after the necessary allowance to the hawker or other retail dealer. The history of the Penny Magazine shows this. But the vast circulation (at one time 220,000) enabled us to sell so costly a work very cheap. I am now referring to what would be more cheaply produced, and have a much more limited circulation; but it could only be done were there no stamp. That makes it quite impossible; and all our plans so far failed that we could not diffuse the knowledge where it was most wanted. Our books were read, and they did great service, and still do, besides having brought down the price of all books. But, like mechanics' institutions, we have not yet got low enough in society; and that we owe to the stamp, because we found that mere cheapness did not make the most ignorant classes readers. Another stimulus was wanted—news. Of course, my remarks apply also to people in the towns; but they have both more helps and, from their social habits, more excitement than the people in the country. The lowering of the stamp from 4d. to ld. I really can hardly regard as a benefit at all, if it was a sacrifice of revenue; for it only relieved two classes who required no relief—it put considerable sums into the pockets of newspaper proprietors, and it saved you and me a few pounds a year, to whom this was but of little importance. It did not enable us to help general education at all.This is an extract from a letter of Lord Brougham's recently received; and it shows us that he holds now the same views which he expressed when the reduction was made, and when he said that that penny was the worst penny of all; and that the small duty would continue the mischief of the larger duty—that it would prohibit the existence of the small and cheap newspaper, and still prevent that which the liberals of the time were anxious to see carried out to the fullest extent, namely, the circulation of knowledge among the masses. What were the results of the reduction upon the character of the newspaper press? Are your papers deteriorated? Mr. Walter, the proprietor of the Times, and father of the present Member for Nottingham, opposed the reduction; but I do not think that the Times has suffered by the rivalry which it was predicted the reduction would provoke. The Times, with reference to the rest of the press, enjoys a much larger proportion of the whole circulation than it did in those days, and affords an illustration of what folly it was to attribute the 1137 success of a newspaper to the operation of any particular tax or duty. It is not protection that has improved the Times. What has raised it to its present high position is the great capital, the great skill, and the great enterprise which have been employed in the conduct of that great organ. Thus it is that it has attained the confidence of the public, and its present large circulation. The result, in that case, certainly shows the folly of supposing that the success or position of a newspaper can be dependent upon taxes or revenue arrangements. Well, for that reason, I don't think existing interests should be afraid of another reduction. The result of a reduction I believe would be this—that cheap newspapers would then go into fields where no newspapers go at present. Those papers which have already the public confidence would keep the public confidence, and have nothing to fear. I must now make some observations upon the peculiarities of the law relating to newspapers. It is said by many persons who oppose the abolition of the stamp, that an equivalent for the stamp is the facility for transmitting the paper free through the post. If that is so, I will make a proposition that the existing papers have the option of remaining as they are, with the stamp, and with the liberty of repeated free transmission through the post; but that other papers be permitted to publish without the stamp, and paying a charge for transmission through the post by an outside stamp affixed when postal services are required. In that case the revenue would be quite safe, while the public will get all they want—stamped or unstamped papers, as they please. Give an option; give those who want a cheap paper, and don't want a postal privilege, the publications which they ask for. The penny publications would not be prevented communicating news; and if they wanted to use the post, they must pay for it. They would be content to take it upon these terms. They said, "Arrange your established press as you please, but do not oppose insuperable obstacles to the insertion of news in a penny publication." Of what did that news consist? Proceedings in the Courts of Justice, in the Police Courts, in the Houses of Parliament, or in the sanitary world, showing men what was necessary to be done in order to preserve their health and promote their physical comforts. Can laws be obeyed if the Legislature take steps to prevent their being known? If this information is not permitted to be circulated 1138 in penny publications, it is impossible it can reach those classes whom it is most desirable that it should reach. Working men won't buy or read the Times, or the Herald, or the Post; and why do you stand in the way of their having the papers which are suited to them? Sir James Mackintosh said of the duty, it was a protection against small publications; and if you will examine the Act, you will see that it is aimed at papers small in size and low in price. See how easily they get over this postal obstacle in the United States: there, a certain weight of any description of printed matter goes through the post for a small stamp affixed to that matter as to a letter. That is the right principle: let those who use the post pay for it. Do not connect news, as news, with a stamp; and if for no other reason, because, as I will show you, such a system exposes the revenue to extensive frauds, and is in all respects a most clumsy system of obtaining postal revenue. It is said the newspapers appreciate the postal privileges they now enjoy. But what postal privileges do you give penny publications? We can send the full-sized newspaper to the extent of four ounces by post for a penny stamp; but the penny unstamped paper pays according to its weight, and therefore at a much higher rate. We can send a morning paper to Liverpool for the penny, in the shape of a newspaper stamp; but it would cost us 4d. to send the Family Herald to Greenwich. The Family Herald sells 200,000 a week, and you may "stamp it;" but if you stamp it, you kill it. See what they would do with it in America! You have a treaty with the United States, under which a copy of the Family Herald would cross the Atlantic, and go 3,000 miles beyond New York into the interior for 1d. Yet you charge 4d. to send it from the Strand to Greenwich. That is how you apply the Post Office to the purpose of diffusing knowledge. But there is a mode by which, within certain limits as to weight, a person may obtain for a copy of any periodical the same postal privileges as a newspaper without stamping every copy of the impression. By a Treasury Minute a person can register a publication as a newspaper, and after entering into all the securities and recognisances, can obtain stamped paper to print on, and it will be then entitled to the postal privilege of newspapers. But let us see what that involves, and how absurd such an arrangement turns out. I think the Minute was a very improper Minute, 1139 Those who are the guardians of the revenue ought not to make an arrangement which actually invites fraud. A Mr. Savory prints a trade circular, which contains a number of drawings of candlesticks, snuffer-trays, candelabra, &c., with the view of circulating them through the country as advertisements; and, in order to get the benefit of the post, what does he do? He goes to the Board of Inland Revenue, and makes a declaration that his circular is a newspaper—which it is not—and, having made that declaration, he has to swear that he is worth 400l. over and above the sum necessary to pay his debts. He then finds two securities to the extent of 400l. each, binding themselves to be forthcoming to pay any penalties he may incur, if in his circular of snuff-trays or candelabra he should be guilty of publishing any "blasphemous or seditious libel." But the stamp is put in the inside, and not on the outside, of these trade circulars; and as the Post Office has no time to examine (if they did, they would never get through the mails), the consequence is that a man may, if he choose, get only a limited quantity of stamped paper, get thus on the list of registered papers, print the rest of his publication on unstamped paper, and so get free through the post. I am not saying this is done; I only say it may be done. Among Englishmen, generally, there is a great disinclination to defraud, willingly, any branch of the revenue. But, then, I do say, it does not become the guardians of the revenue to expose the revenue to such risks. In the evidence given before the Committee it was shown that on one occasion 5,000 copies of a single publication, unstamped, was in the Post Office at one time; and then there was nothing to be done with them but to throw them aside, for the persons to whom they were addressed would not have paid the legal postage, and nobody could tell who had put them in the post. Punch or the Athenœum are allowed to be printed without a stamp, as well as with one, and there was nothing to prevent an unstamped copy of either being sent by the post free of charge, for there was no time to examine it, and it would go just the same as a stamped copy. This mixing up of stamped and unstamped copies of publications, therefore, was a most clumsy expedient, and ought not to be allowed to continue. I would recommend a plainer system, namely, that which was suggested by Mr. Walter, when the question was 1140 discussed in this House some years ago. Mr. Walter said—If you want to levy a postage on newspapers, do it at the Post-office, and then you will not be involved in all the difficulties and litigations to which you are now subject in order to ascertain what is a newspaper, and what publications are liable to the stamp and what are not.Don't be afraid of the revenue; I believe your revenue would remain as high as before from newspapers, if you taxed them as printed matter, and taxed them only for actual transmission through the post, through the means of a stamped envelope, at the same time encouraging all publications to seek the Post-office, by charging low rates of postage. And there can be no doubt whatever, that such a change would be of incalculable advantage to our labouring population. Then, as to the state of the law, I ask is it creditable to the Legislature to pass Statutes which it cannot enforce? You give your revenue officers a law, with the perfect knowledge that such a law cannot be carried out in its integrity. Carry out the letter of the Statute, and there is not a publication you can conceive which would not be liable to some of the regulations of the newspaper Stamp Acts. What are the words of the law with respect to securities, for instance?—And be it further enacted, that from and after thirty days after the passing of this Act, no person shall print or publish for sale any newspaper, pamphlet, or other paper containing public news, intelligence, or occurrences, or remarks, or observations thereon, or upon any matters of Church or State, where the same shall not exceed two sheets, and be published for less than 6d. until he shall have appeared before the Baron of the Exchequer, or one of his Majesty's Justices of the peace, and entered into recognisances, himself in 400l. and two other persons in 400l. each, binding themselves to pay such fines and penalties as may be imposed upon conviction for printing any blasphemous or seditious libel.The penalty for a breach of this law was 20l. Now, is it possible to enforce such a law? and do they enforce it? I ask the law officers of the Crown, and the law officers under the late Government, whether they mean that this is law which they would enforce; and if they do not, why such an Act is not repealed? The practice is to ignore the strict law, and not to enforce securities and recognisances, on any papers which do not contain news. The law was directed ostensibly with a view to the prevention of libellous publications: but observe the present practice under it. If I publish a paper for the avowed purpose of 1141 libelling private character—and the present law includes private libels—or for the purpose of questioning the truths of Christianity, or for the purpose of bringing into discredit the Sovereign of the realm, without giving the general news of the day—if I address a large number of people in a small publication of that sort, I am allowed to do so under the present practice of the Board, without entering into any securities whatever; for securities would not be asked unless I gave news, which I can easily avoid, as the word is used. The Musical Times, and the Journal of the Society of Arts, which give news as some people would consider it, but as the Board of Inland Revenue does not consider it, are unstamped publications, only stamping such copies as are for post; but the securities are required in the case of the Journal of the Society of Arts—Prince Albert being President of that Society, and therefore one of the proprietors of the journal—security has to be entered into to provide for possible blasphemous and seditious libels. On the other hand, there was a publication called Sam Sly, brought out for the purpose, and for no other, of libelling private characters; and in that case, when a clergyman at Barking, who had been libelled, was anxious to bring an action, he found that no securities for that publication had been entered into, it not being a registered newspaper, and that there was no use, neither redress nor damages to be got, in proceeding against men of straw. Sometimes the Board proceeds in a most capricious way. The Board of Inland Revenue proceeded against one of our most eminent and useful writers, Mr. Charles Dickens, for publishing without a stamp a monthly periodical which contained news. Supposing the Board had succeeded, what benefit would the country have derived—what would the revenue have benefited? If you had enforced the stamp, the periodical would have been discontinued, its circulation being dependent on its low price. You prosecuted Mr. Dickens, it was said, in order to test the law, and to put down the class of unstamped monthlies like the Household Narrative. Pretty policy in days when we are talking of educating the people! To prevent, by your stupid law, Charles Dickens, with his mind and intellect, from addressing the greatest possible number of his fellow-countrymen is, I say, a disgrace to the Legislature. I say disgraceful advisedly; for if you had stopped Mr. Dickens, you would not have done one 1142 particle of benefit to this country, to the revenue, nor to any existing paper, because no one can pretend that a twopenny monthly unstamped newspaper comes into competition with any established ordinary stamped newspaper. The Board acted in an indefensible manner: if there were doubts about the law, the Government should have brought in a Bill declaring what the law is. But when the authorities had been beaten in the Exchequer, Mr. Timm of the Board of Inland Revenue, took up his position, and said, "The Judges of the land are all wrong; we know better; a new trial must be had to set aside the judgment of the Court." But the law officers of Lord Derby's Government interposed and said, "This persecution has gone far enough; we must have a Bill." The Bill was attempted to be introduced irregularly. I was charged with obstructing it; but I believe I was merely discharging my duty by requiring that the Bill should be introduced, according to the forms of the House. It would have been easy to reintroduce the Bill; but here we are, not one step further has been taken in the matter, and for aught I know, a prosecution may be commenced to-morrow against the publisher of a monthly periodical containing news. I fancy that a good many of these small monthlies have been put down. Here is one called Burniston's Northern Luminary. There is the following letter with respect to it:—
§ "Inland Revenue, Somerset House, London,
§ "March 12, 1849.
§ "Burniston's Northern Luminary.
§ "Sir—This publication having been brought under my notice, I have to inform you that it is a newspaper, and that by publishing it as such you are incurring heavy penalties. I beg, therefore, to suggest the propriety of your immediately registering it as a newspaper, or discontinuing to publish it. If you adopt the former course you must give the necessary instructions for the documents at the Stamp Office at York without delay.—I am, &c.
§ "J. TIMM, Solicitor of Inland Revenue.
§ "Mr. J. Burniston, Printer, &c., Knaresborough."
§ "This paper was discontinued," says Mr. Timm in a postscript; that is, he thinks that he frightened it out of existence. But I can tell him that he is mistaken. The Northern Luminary merely set for a short period; it has risen again since the decision of the Court of Exchequer, and is now published, notwithstanding his letter, with perfect freedom. Mr. Timm tells us that frequency of publication has nothing to do with the question whether or not a publi- 1143 cation is a newspaper. If you print any matter of news on paper— a Queen's speech, for example—you come within the operation of the law. Here is the case of an execution—a last dying speech, I suppose, or something of that kind:—
§ "Inland Revenue Office, Somerset House, London, April 26, 1849.
§ "Gentlemen—A printed paper, entitled 'Execution of Sarah Ann Thomas,' printed and published by you, has been brought to the notice of this Board. I have, therefore, to intimate to you that, by publishing such paper, which is a newspaper, an unstamped paper, and without in other respects complying with the requisites of the law, you have incurred serious penalties. The commissioners are ready, however, to attend to any explanation you may think proper to give as to the irregularity, and any statement you may send to me upon the subject shall be submitted to them.—I am, Sir,
§ "J. TIMM, Solicitor of Inland Revenue.
§ "Messrs. Mathews, Printers, 44, Broad-street, Bristol."
§ "44, Broad-quay, Bristol, April 25, 1849.
§ "Sir—In reply to yours of yesterday, we beg to say that we must plead entire ignorance of the existence of any law which we have infringed in issuing the tract referred to. We have nothing in Hansard's Instructions to Printers which at all deals with the question. We have also inquired at the Stamp Office to-day, and can get no information on the subject. We most certainly would not knowingly lay ourselves open to the penalties of infringement. You would therefore greatly oblige by stating where the information can be obtained. We have for many years (in common with our brethren in the profession) printed reports and tracts on passing subjects, and cannot therefore perceive wherein we have offended.—We are, &c.
§ "MATTHEWS, BROTHERS.
§ "J. Timm, Esq.,
§ Inland Revenue, Somerset House, London."
§ "April 26, 1849.
§ "Gentlemen—I have received your letter of the 25th inst., in explanation of the publishing by you of the tract, as you term it, entitled Execution of S. A. Thomas, and in reply beg to furnish you with the necessary information for your future guidance. A newspaper is defined to be 'any paper containing public news, intelligence, or occurrences printed in any part of the kingdom, to be dispersed and made public.' The paper in question, with the exception, perhaps, of that which relates to the history of the criminal, is, from beginning to end, within this description of matter. This Board is not disposed, I apprehend, to treat the present case as a wilful infringement of the law, and the notice thus taken will, probably, be deemed sufficient.—I am, &c.
§ "J. TIMM, Solicitor, Inland Revenue.
§ "Messrs. Matthews, Printers, 44,
§ Broad-quay, Bristol."
§ Well, now, Sir, what are people to think when they receive these letters from the Board of Inland Revenue relating to serious penalties for offences with regard to which there is so little information? I say 1144 it behoves this House to enable parties to ascertain what is the taxable article called a newspaper. It has been lately said in a Court of Justice, that if a newspaper confine itself to the news of one class it is not a newspaper; and it has sometimes been stated that if it confine itself to one subject it is not a newspaper. These definitions are to me by no means intelligible. Mr. Keogh said before the Committee that the Legal Observer might with propriety give information with regard to the Papal aggression if it confined itself to what lawyers thought on the subject—because what it gave would be interesting only to a particular class—the lawyers; it might give an account of a meeting of lawyers on Papal aggression; whereas if it reported a meeting of clergymen on the same subject, the Secretary said there could be no doubt that penalties would be incurred. This is a refinement which I hope my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General will make clear to the House. There is also the new principle called the one-subject principle. Nothing is said in the Act about miscellaneous news being alone liable to the stamp; the Act says that you must not give any news. Notwithstanding the Board professes to exempt publications from stamp which only treat of one subject, I certainly consider that the tract relating to the execution of Sarah Ann Thomas was confined to one subject. A person at Bedford brought out a paper called The Bedford Charity Record, relating to the proceedings of the Bedford corporation. This also led to a correspondence, and the paper was discontinued. Here a man is written to who strictly confines himself to one subject; and yet we have a magistrate recently on the bench, advised, I presume, by competent authorities, laying it down that, provided a paper be not miscellaneous, and be confined to one subject, no stamp is required. Sir, I say this is convincing proof of the unsatisfactory state of the law, and it behoves the Government no longer to delay the settlement of this matter. It is shameful that persons should be constantly persecuted with letters from the Board of Inland Revenue, and that useful publications should be deprived of existence, without any one being able to say whether or not their publication is illegal. Now, Sir, these are the leading features of the case which I undertook to submit to the House. I trust that I have not trespassed longer than I ought in asking for a decision on such an important question. 1145 I thought it only respectful to the House to go sufficiently into detail to give them a precise view of the nature of the proposition which I have submitted. I now, Sir, place these Resolutions in your hands, in the confident hope that this House will give them all proper consideration. I do assure hon. Members on both sides, that I have brought forward this subject without any party feeling, or any hostility to any set of politicians in this country, and simply from an earnest desire to act in accordance with the spirit of recent legislation in favour of education and the diffusion of knowledge, and to put an end to an anomalous state of press laws, which I am sure no hon. Member can think of without regret. Again reminding hon. Gentlemen that separate divisions will be taken on each of these Resolutions, I entreat them, if they cannot go the whole way with me, at least to go with me for a part of it. I ask them not to reject the whole three, but to give to the subject that favourable consideration which its importance entitles it to receive.
§ MR. EWART
said, that in seconding the Motion of his right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson), it would not be necessary that he should trespass long on the attention of the House, for his right hon. Friend had completely exhausted the subject in his admirable speech. He thought the result of the debate must be the speedy repeal of the advertisement duty, and the eventual repeal of the stamp duty on newspapers. He supported the Motion of his right hon. Friend mainly because he believed that the abolition of these duties would be favourable to the cause of knowledge and of order. He considered that it would be vain to found schools, to establish libraries, or to take other means for extending information to the people, if they did not encourage among them a knowledge of the passing intelligence of the day. If other taxes were taxes upon the accumulated stores of knowledge, the two in question pressed upon what might be called the current coin and circulating medium of instruction. This was the very kind of knowledge which it should be the anxious duty of a Legislature to circulate thoroughly among the masses of the people. He was desirous that the people should be invited, if possible, to educate themselves. It was a quotation almost too trite for him to make, that Gibbon had described men as receiving two kinds of education—one given them by others; the 1146 other—and of these, said Gibbon, the last is infinitely the most important—given them by themselves. Now, he would ask, how they could better extend this species of self-education than by encouraging the free circulation of local newspapers? He believed the effect of the repeal of the stamp and advertisement duties would be to give a similar impulse to the circulation of local newspapers as was witnessed in the United States. It was becoming an admitted principle of education, that the natural course of instruction was to proceed from the known to the unknown. Inform a man on events and things connected with his own trade and neighbourhood, bring information home (as Lord Bacon said) to the "business and bosoms" of mankind, and they would extend their sphere of knowledge to matters far beyond their own practical and immediate interests. He was aware some persons imagined that the consequence of the abolition of these duties would be the prevalence of bad publications; but unquestionable testimony had been adduced before the Committee on the Stamp Duties on Newspapers that, in large towns like Manchester, the good publications eventually triumphed over the bad. He also supported the Motion of his right hon. Friend, because he believed it was favourable to the cause of order. They would find that those countries which, during the storms of the recent revolution that had taken place in Europe, had remained most unshaken were those in which the press was most free. Austria, France, Prussia, and the countries where the press was most shackled, had been agitated to their foundations, and almost overwhelmed in the political earthquake which had pervaded Europe; while, on the other hand, Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, and England had remained firm. The United States presented a most remarkable example of a firmly-seated Government, less agitated by the shocks of internal commotion than any other country in the world; and he maintained that this was to be traced, to a great extent at least, to the entire freedom which the press enjoyed. One of the most remarkable distinctions which existed between ancient and modern times was, that whereas in ancient times the people were appealed to in the forum or the agora by their orators, they were now appealed to by the press; while formerly they were influenced by interest and passion, they might now be influenced by calm 1147 deliberation and argumentative reasoning. He held that the leading articles of newspapers, and still more the facts which newspapers recorded, were far safer guides than the impassioned speeches of ancient orators; and he contended that sound policy prescribed the full development of this great engine of information and of reasoning, instead of its suppression or restriction. Such suppression and restriction formed no part of the ancient constitution of this country. They were excrescences upon it. Two of them, dated some 140 years back, were introduced in the reign of Queen Anne; and, as he believed, there was an express understanding with regard to the paper duty that it should cease when the war was concluded. As to the advertisement duty, nothing but the severe necessity of a revolutionary war could palliate its imposition. He thought it was the duty of the Legislature to sweep away these excrescences on our constitution. He was rejoiced to find that this great cause had so able an advocate as his right hon. Friend. He believed it would gain ground from day to day, and from Session to Session, and that the Government would eventually be obliged to concede the principle for which the intelligence and trade of the country were contending.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Advertisement Duty ought to be repealed."
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER
said, he had listened with very great interest both to the able and comprehensive speech of the right hon. Gentleman who moved these Resolutions, and also to the very temperate and intelligent statement of the hon. Member for Dumfries, who seconded them. He freely owned that in those speeches there was much matter that deserved the attention of the House; but they related partly to subjects of policy and partly to subjects of revenue, and those subjects it would be his duty, as far as he was able, to disentangle from one another. Although he did not, in the least degree, wish to qualify his description of the speeches which had been made on this subject, he would endeavour to show the House that it would not be wise to adopt the Resolutions which had been proposed. With regard to questions of policy, those were, of course, matters upon which the office he had the honour to hold, gave him no special authority to speak. The comparatively limited question on which the right hon. Gentleman had bestowed considerable no- 1148 tice—namely, that which grew out of the prosecution in the case of Messrs. Bradbury and Evans—was one to which he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) ought, perhaps, in the first instance, to advert. He fully acceded, with respect to that question, to the opinion expressed in one of the Resolutions before the House—"that the law relative to taxes on newspapers, and other regulations affecting public prints, is in an unsatisfactory state, and demands the attention of Parliament." It was the intention of Her Majesty's Government to propose—and he hoped they would be able to do so within a very short period—a Bill for the purpose of clearing up the state of the law. [Some cries of "Oh!"] Well, if clearing up the state of the law on this subject was not considered desirable by some hon. Gentlemen, he was sorry to differ from those who entertained that opinion; but it was the intention of the Government to bring in a Bill for the purpose of clearing up the state of the law with respect to newspapers, and of preventing any harsh or severe interpretation of that law, quite irrespectively of the further question of revenue, which, he fully granted, still remained for consideration. It appeared to him that there was a clear distinction between these two subjects. The question of the stamp duty upon newspapers, which involved a large sum of money, was a material question of revenue. The question that had arisen with respect to the liability of certain publications to be classed as newspapers, was a subject matter for complaint by private individuals, and was one with regard to which persons would have a fair right to complain, if any considerable or unnecessary delay took place in calling the attention of Parliament to the subject. Now, with reference to the general principle upon which these Resolutions rested, the second Resolution declared—That the policy of restraining the cheap periodical press from narrating current events, by rendering it liable to Stamp Duties and other restrictions, if 'any public news, intelligence, or occurrences, or any remarks or observations thereon,' be contained therein, is inexpedient.They had been told that it was not as a matter of revenue that these restrictions were imposed, but that it was the policy of those who placed the Acts upon the Statute-book to restrain the circulation of intelligence of the kind referred to. He would not enter into the historical question as to whether that had been the policy of a former Government or not; but he thought 1149 that so many Members of Her Majesty's present Government had given their voices in favour of the free circulation of intelligence, that the House must feel assured that the policy of a former period was not likely to be the policy of the present Government. He cordially concurred in the opinion expressed by his hon. Friend (Mr. Ewart), that perfectly free discussion was not only not to be regarded as an evil, or to be subjected to repressive legislation, but was a system which, if it were fairly and manfully encouraged, was likely to contribute to the stability of the institutions of the country; and he was quite certain that nothing would either be said or done on the part of the Government to lead to a contrary result. He must now request the House to look at the question involved in the Motion of his right hon. Friend, who proposed, by his first Resolution, that they should condemn the advertisement duties; by the second, the stamp duties and newspapers; and, by the third, the paper duties. This was the part of the subject upon which it was his (the Chancellor of the Exchequer's) more especial office to speak, and it would be a breach of duty on his part if he were to encourage or to advise the House to pass these Resolutions. He had protested before—and he must now repeat the protest—against condemning taxes which the House was not prepared on the instant to repeal. He trusted the House would never lower its character by sliding into a practice which, undoubtedly, had many recommendations—recommendations, he meant, addressed to feeling and convenience—of dealing in expressions and promises which might produce a popular impression, but which created and raised expectations that Parliament was not prepared to fulfil. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) had himself given an illustration of the vanity and futility of understandings with respect to the repeal of taxes; for, in referring to the origin of the newspaper stamp duties and of the paper duties, he had said they were imposed with a clear understanding that they should be repealed at an early period after the termination of the war. Now, did not this show the worthlessness of such understandings as to the repeal of taxes? Did it not show the deceptive and delusive character of mere expressions of opinion about taxes, as distinct from the practical measures which it was the duty of that House to take? With respect to the taxes under discussion, the right hon. Gentleman who 1150 brought forward the Motion had said that there was a great and culpable indifference on the part of Chancellors of the Exchequer as to the mode of raising a revenue, provided that a revenue was raised. The right hon. Gentleman also accused Chancellors of the Exchequer of a great want of discrimination between the different modes of raising the revenue. If that, then, was the habitual and established fault of Chancellors of the Exchequer, surely the right hon. Gentleman was prepared to show that he proceeded upon a different principle, and discriminated between the wise and unwise modes of raising the revenue of the country. The right hon. Gentleman now invited the House to come to a vote by which they were to condemn nearly 1,500,000l. of that revenue. The right hon. Gentleman said the House need not adopt all his Resolutions. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), for his part, was not aware that they were bound to vote for any; but, as they were proposed altogether, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) thought he was justified in concluding that the right hon Gentleman wished the House to adopt them all. Well, did the right hon. Gentleman, who condemned Chancellors of the Exchequer for not discriminating between wise and unwise modes of raising public money, make such discrimination himself? The right hon. Gentleman had condemned the unwise modes of raising the revenue; had he pointed out a wise mode? [Mr. M. GIBSON said, that he had mentioned post age.] Yes, certainly the right hon. Gentleman had pointed out that a charge might be laid upon newspapers sent by post, but was that to produce 1,500,000l.? It would do no such thing. The right hon. Gentleman, then, had not pointed out any substitute for the revenue he proposed to condemn; and he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) trusted the House was not disposed to fall into the practice of condemning taxes until it was either prepared to dispense with them, or to provide substitutes for them. With regard to the advertisement duty, he was sorry that he differed from his right hon. Friend upon a question of arithmetic. The right hon. Gentleman had said they might assume that for each additional advertisement eight additional letters would pass through the Post-office, and he computed that if 5,000,000 additional advertisements were gained by abandoning the duty, an additional 40,000,000 of letters would pass through the post, which would yield a 1151 revenue of 166,000l. The right hon. Gentleman told them that the advertisement duty only yielded about. the same amount, 170,000l. or 180,000l., and that therefore the loss of revenue would at most be very trifling. Now, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) wanted to know whether 166,000l. derived from the postage of letters would really be a substitute for 166,000l. derived from a duty on advertisements? Unless he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had greatly mistaken the accounts of the Post-office revenue, for every 3l. returned in that department, about 2l. was absorbed in the expense of collection, and therefore the substitute proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, instead of yielding 166,000l., would only produce about 55,000l. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that the House should consent to abandon a revenue amounting to 1,500,000l. a year. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) should say, we had not the means of doing it; as it was not proposed to abandon it, but only to condemn it, he would venture most respectfully, but most earnestly, to express a hope that the House would not consent to a vote of that kind, but join with him in the vote which he should propose, called "the previous question;" for he did not by any means wish to imply a hostility to the object which the right hon. Gentleman had in view. With respect to the paper duty, he would fully grant that, large as was the revenue derived from that source, he should be delighted to see the day when we could dispense with it. The right hon. Gentleman must recollect that, though certainly it was a duty which there were abundant reasons to make us wish to get rid of, it was not a duty laid merely upon the paper used for literary productions, but a duty pressing upon the coarser description of paper used for inferior purposes; but no doubt the paper duty had the effect of a most objectionable tax upon literature and upon mental effort and productions, and therefore he should be as happy as the right hon. Gentleman when the day came that we could find a substitute to recompense us for its loss, or dispense with it altogether. In the same way with respect to the advertisement duty, he would fully grant that at present the charge imposed by it was a very heavy and onerous charge; but the right hon. Gentleman would recollect that, after all, we must be content in these matters with something like gradual progress. Had no progress been made in this matter 1152 since the times to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, when Lord Castlereagh's Acts were passed? The stamp duty upon newspapers was then 4d.; it was now ld.; it sounded like one-fourth —practically it was rather less than one-third. That, at all events, looked something like progress. With respect to the advertisement duty, it had been reduced from 3s. 6d. to 1s. 6d.; surely there again was something like progress. Not that this was a reason for stopping—it was a reason for going onward; but, for goodness' sake, before we went onward let us consider our general principles. He was quite sure he might appeal to a Gentleman of the acuteness and good sense of the right hon. Member for Manchester to consider what a mischievous precedent he was setting by inviting Gentlemen to give votes upon a series of Resolutions, all of them to be given upon isolated grounds, without any general or comprehensive view of the state of the revenue. Did the right hon. Gentleman think, that if the House were to encourage this practice of condemning particular taxes by one vote and another, it was likely to be for the benefit of the community, or the good of the country? Did he think it likely that the expenditure of the country would be balanced by its income; that the credit of the country would be maintained; that in the end the burden upon the public would be lightened? With the very slight experience which he had had in the office which he had now the honour to hold, he did not feel any hesitation in calling upon the House not to force a decision upon a subject which there had not yet been the opportunity of fully and fairly considering. He felt it his duty to represent to the House the danger which menaced that great assembly of sliding unawares into a practice perilous to the public interests and the public credit and the character of the House. What had been the propositions made to the House during about eight weeks that he had sat in it as Chancellor of the Exchequer? The hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) said a few nights ago that the House had been voting away money at the rate of 1,000,000l. an hour: well, the House was most liberal in voting the public money; but, if it chose to be so, it must exercise some self-command in refusing to shut up the sources from which the public money was derived. It was impossible to combine the two things; you could not play 1153 with this system of condemning and vituperating taxes unless you were prepared to give them up, and you could not give them up unless you were prepared to adopt measures to which the House—the great body of the House—did not see its way as to a total change and great contraction of the public expenditure. What had been the demands made upon the House since the month of February? The House had met but a few days when an hon. Member opposite (Mr. Frewen) moved the remission of the hop duty; he said, it was impossible any Chancellor of the Exchequer could care about it, for it was a mere nothing— only about 380,000l.; and he was supported by a considerable number of Gentlemen in a vote to strike off that duty without any consideration of balancing the income and expenditure of the country. It was, however, a moderate demand compared with some others. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume), who came next, raised his terms very much, for he moved for the repeal of Custom duties to the amount of no less than 1,350,000l. The hon. Member did not indeed wish to press his Motion to a division; but a division was called for, and into the lobby a number of Gentlemen went in support of that proposition. That was on the 3rd of March. On the 10th, the noble Lord (Lord R. Grosvenor), one of the most formidable antagonists any Chancellor of the Exchequer ever had, descended from the hills with his Motion against the duty on attorneys' certificates. His demand, again, was moderate—no more than 120,000l. That demand he pressed to a division, and the House was pleased to affirm his proposal, in defiance of such opposition as the Government could offer. The House met on the 4th of April, after the Easter recess. On the 5th an hon. Member (Mr. Oliveira) made a Motion with regard to the wine duties, affecting revenue amounting to 1,700,000l. He, however, only proposed to take away about two-thirds of the amount in the first instance, and, with great kindness and considerateness, he was content with the discussion he had raised, and the opinions he had elicited, and did not press his Motion to a division. That was on the Tuesday. On the Thursday—for there were two days in the week for these attacks upon the Exchequer—a Motion was made by the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. G. H. Moore) with respect to the Irish Consolidated Annuities; and that demand, supported by a considerable num- 1154 ber of Members, involved 2,000,000l. and upwards of revenue. On the next Tuesday—they kept their times regularly— Tuesday and Thursday—the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De L. Evans) made a Motion to reduce the duty on carriages; but the amount he affected again sank miserably from the standard of the week before: it was only 413,000l., and he, too, was so kind as not to divide the House, and not to call for the expression of an abstract opinion. We had now arrived at the 14th, and there was a most formidable ascent again in the figures, for the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) was requiring the House, not by a distinct plain vote to part with, but to condemn, revenue amounting to 1,500,000l. Such was the rate at which demands had been made upon the Exchequer during this short time, amounting within these eight weeks to 7,463,000l.; so that while the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) said the House voted away public money at the rate of 1,000,000l. an hour, large portions of the House had shown a very strong inclination to vote away the funds by which the public charges were to be met, if not at that rate, at the tolerably rapid one of 1,000,000l. a week. That was a serious state of things for the House to consider. If the House was disposed to think that the best mode of managing the finances of the country was by these successive votes at the instance of individual Members, regulated by all the chances and accidents that determined which Motion should come first—if they thought it a safe course to encourage these Motions and divisions with respect to them, then he had no more to say, except to suggest a public economy which might be highly acceptable to many—a particular reduction, not a general economy—the total abolition of the office he had the honour to hold. He knew no conceivable reason why a Gentleman should be appointed at a considerable salary, and decorated with a certain title, as steward of the public revenue, and guardian of the public credit, and responsible for presenting to the House, in some tolerable shape, a balance between the expenditure and the income of the year, if the House, which was supreme in all these matters, was deliberately of opinion that the best mode of dealing with them was by condemning on successive Motion-days one sum after another, the lowest being the insignificant amount of 120,000l., the highest rising to the dig- 1155 nity of 2,000,000l. That was matter for the consideration of the House. It was impossible for him, upon the present occasion, to say more, he thought, with regard to the fiscal question than he had already stated. With regard to the question of policy, he had stated in the most distinct terms that the Government had no wish to retain, and would not retain, any restraint whatever upon the press for the sake of restraint; that for them the question would be a purely fiscal question; and that the claims of newspapers for relief from taxation, if it could be shown (which probably it might be) that they paid more than an equivalent for the service they received, should meet with fair consideration; and he meant by fair consideration a just and impartial comparison between those claims for relief, and the claims of the other great interests concerned in the reduction of taxation. The right hon. Gentleman could not ask him for more; if he stood where he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) was standing, he was quite certain he would not give more—he would not consent to these affirmations. If the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) were Finance Minister, he would not consent to adopt a policy of promises instead of performances, There was a time, once a year, when the Minister was brought to book, and when it was his duty to show what he meant to do; let him be held there. If his proposals were good, let them be taken; if bad, let them be rejected. But let not the House deal with the country in words and phrases. He had no doubt of the right hon. Gentleman's sincerity; but he would say it was a dangerous practice to adopt Resolutions expressive of general intentions, which he would not say flattered passions, but raised reasonable expectations—expectations which yet hon. Gentlemen were not prepared to fulfil. Were they, or were they not, prepared to fulfil expectation in this instance? Was the right hon. Gentleman prepared to throw over every other claim? Would he cut off revenue to part with these taxes? It was fair enough in the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson), as in the hon. and gallant Member for Westminster (Sir De L. Evans), to raise discussion as the means of impressing upon the public mind what was just, and upon the mind of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, if it were thought that letters, and newspapers, and interviews were not sufficient; but let not the House be led into the prac- 1156 tice of dealing so lightly with questions of public revenue, as they would unawares slide into, if they accustomed themselves to a course of condemning one thing and another, and dissociating the opinions they expressed from a carefully and well-weighed estimate of their means of giving practical effect to their Resolutions. These sentiments he had thought it right to express. They were not in collision with the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman as to the freedom of the press, which was not merely to be permitted and tolerated, but highly estimated and prized, for it tended to bind closer together all the national interests, and to preserve the institutions of the country. He (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) did not wish to convey an approval of the taxes with respect to which the Motion was made. He had stated frankly as regarded the advertisement duty, he had stated as frankly as regarded the paper duty, he had stated without entering into detail upon the amount of advantage derived by newspapers from the post, as compared with the payment, that he should be delighted to see the day when the burden upon newspapers might be removed; and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not be surprised, considering the number of departmental and financial questions which had been pressed upon him during these three months, if he was not prepared to enter with the right hon. Gentleman into the whole detail of the statement with regard to the proposal, for which no doubt there was much to be said, of charging newspapers for Post Office services. But he must own he did not quite understand the system which the right hon. Gentleman intended to propose. He said he would leave the established newspapers as at present, but let the penny prints contain news and go free—
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
I said, let the established papers have the option of remaining as they are, paying the stamp as an equivalent for freedom of transmission; if they do, there will be no loss of revenue; and allow a penny paper to contain news.
§ The CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
But, the established papers were not a corporation acting under seal, to say as a body whether they would remain as at present or not. With respect to fiscal burdens, he entirely agreed that, if there was to be a fiscal burden affecting the press, it was to affect the press in common with many other valuable and essen- 1157 tial things, because of the necessity of raising a public revenue, and because we were obliged often to be satisfied with what we had got, even when we would have it otherwise if we could. These necessities of revenue, however, might at some future period admit of being modified. Whether they did so or not, he trusted the House would not proceed to condemn taxes until they were prepared to give effect to their Resolution by producing a remedy. With regard to the second Resolution, his objection, again, to the affirmation of abstract principles of policy was extremely strong. He entirely agreed that we ought not to seek to restrain the cheap periodical press from narrating current events by restrictions and duties, under any notion that the cheap periodical press ought to be regarded as otherwise than capable of being made a great engine of public instruction and public utility. He agreed also that the law relative to taxes on newspapers and public prints deserved the attention of Parliament. But he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would act upon the opinion on which he would act if responsible for carrying on the public affairs of the country—that it was very much better to digest and mature plans of legislative reformation which they thought could be introduced, and then submit them to Parliament, than to deal in promises which were of no value whatever, except they were attended by performances, and which, inasmuch as performance was often apt to lag very wofully behind, would become instruments of popular delusion, and, though well intended by those who made them, the foundation of a practice highly derogatory to the public interests and the dignity and honour of Parliament, and tend greatly to weaken the confidence of the people in those whom they had entrusted with the charge of public affairs. He begged to move the previous question.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, that the speech of his right hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. M. Gibson), had not received anything like an answer from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and, indeed, from the Amendment of that right hon. Gentleman, he (Mr. Bright) did not suppose that he meant seriously to controvert the propositions which had been laid down by his (Mr. Bright's) right hon. Colleague. In fact, the speech in which the question had been introduced, was so comprehensive, so logical, and so full of facts, which, although they seemed new, must at once receive acceptance from those who heard 1158 them, that the conviction must come home to every one that nothing in our whole fiscal arrangements could possibly be so stupid as the imposts known as the taxes on knowledge. He thought that every Gentleman who had heard the debate must have come to the conclusion that, at least, "the brains were out," whether the evil complained of would die or not. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had begun by admitting that the present state of the law was unsatisfactory with regard to the stamp-duty on newspapers, and that with regard to the case of Bradbury and Evans, Government intended to introduce a special measure more clearly defining the law. The right hon. Gentleman appeared a little annoyed at an exclamation which came from that (Mr. Bright's) part of the House, and perhaps it was not quite so courteous as it might have been; but the fact was, it was caused by a feeling of amazement that the right hon. Gentleman should have got no further than this; that with this Government, containing men who ought to understand this question thoroughly, he was about to propose a new law to re-enact restrictions which would have the same effect upon the general question of the public press as the restrictions now in force. The exclamation was one of amazement that he should have proposed to do no more. Towards the close of the right hon. Gentleman's speech he had almost coaxingly pressed his (Mr. Bright's) right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) not to proceed with his Motion, hinting something very like a hope that the Government would take the question into consideration. But, while he concluded with that delusive expectation, he commenced with that "fulness of the heart" out of which "the mouth speaketh," by proposing to bring in a Bill which should define the law more clearly, and exclude Mr. Dickens, care being taken that there should not be an untaxed press throughout the United Kingdom. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER was understood to express dissent.] He was sorry the right hon. Gentleman had not informed them that the new Bill was to sweep away the obnoxious law; but it appeared its only object was to strengthen the hands of the Board of Inland Revenue. The right hon. Gentleman had not given the smallest intimation that the penny stamp was to abolished, but had attacked the arithmetical calculations of his right hon. Friend in a blundering manner. The right hon. Gentleman had not denied the 1159 possibility of 40,000,000 of letters as a consequence of 5,000,000 of advertisements; he had not denied the prospect of a revenue of 166,000l., but had expressed a doubt that that sum would leave a profit to the revenue. The right hon. Gentleman had spoken of the expense of establishments, but had forgotten that when extensive establishments were already in existence, every increase in their business compatible with their means of discharging it, must be an increase in the clear profits of those establishments. He (Mr. Bright), therefore, contended that his right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) was perfectly justified in estimating that fully two-thirds, if not three-fourths, of the contemplated increase would be clear profit to the revenues of the Post Office. Therefore the loss to the revenue would be quite insignificant, and would be wholly obliterated if the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to consider the vast facilities which would be given to business by the alterations which his right hon. Friend proposed. But then the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer proclaimed himself a Minister of progress. He might be so, but so must every Government be at the present moment; and hon. Members opposite had shown themselves as anxious for progress as any one when they found themselves seated on the Treasury bench. The Chancellor of the Exchequer was more ingenious than he was likely to prove successful when he attempted to persuade the House that, because the stamp and advertisement duties were reduced some eighteen years ago, there was no reason why they should hurry forward now.
§ MR. BRIGHT
The right hon. Gentleman admitted that it was no reason, but he had brought forward the fact to show that a great deal had been done, and that there was no special reason for considering this more than any other question. The right hon. Gentleman complained of these Motions; but he would ask the right hon. Gentleman if he had ever heard of a tax being repealed without the people having asked for it? He should recollect that the window-tax was not repealed until after successive Motions. The right hon. Gentleman's Parliamentary experience was much longer than his own, and he must remember that with regard to the window tax—as unpopular and bad a tax as ever was proposed—it underwent frequent dis- 1160 cussions and divisions, and it was only when the divisions became extremely close that the present right hon. President of the Board of Control (Sir C. Wood) found it necessary to abolish the tax, and, in doing so, used all the arguments which he had himself endeavoured to controvert on previous Motions. The right hon. Gentleman had said that he would give the subject fair consideration, and if he found that newspapers were unfairly burdened, he would give relief where relief was required. But that was what all Chancellors of the Exchequer had said ever since he (Mr. Bright) had been a Member of that House. But that was not the question. His right hon. Colleague opposed the tax, not half so much on account of its pressure on existing newspapers, as because it was an instrument by means of which the publication of more papers was prevented. It was a notorious fact that the existing newspapers did not wish Parliament to interfere, for it was one of the unfortunate results of these taxes that they narrowed industry until the newspapers became monopolies, exclusively in the hands of men of large capital. He had read that day a pamphlet by a newspaper editor arguing against the whole Motion; but of that pamphlet no one could read a page without seeing that the author was looking to his own journal, his own advertisements, his own receipts, the absence of rivalry and competition, and that his own interest had blinded his eyes on the question. He believed that the extract which his right hon. Colleague had read from Lord Brougham's letter, written to his hon. Friend the Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden) some time since, was worthy the most serious consideration of that House. In that letter Lord Brougham said that the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge had found it impossible to reach those classes of society of which the agricultural labourers formed the chief portion, with these publications. For those classes the present newspapers were too large and too expensive, and treated of matters quite beyond their limited information. They had in them more than the peasant had the heart to read: he wanted to know little about foreign affairs, but everything that was applicable to his own condition. Nothing was more true than the remark that what a man did know must be made the medium of communicating information to him; and when you interested his faculties in a variety of subjects, and enlarged his 1161 circle of information, you might at last have an educated people. It was the small news of his own neighbourhood that interested the agricultural labourer; and that which might be called of inferior quality might be made the vehicle for conveying to him the knowledge of that which was of superior quality. There was one argument to which he would refer, and to which he was glad to find the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not committed himself, and that was whether it was consistent with the character of any Government to maintain these taxes on any grounds except those of revenue? The right hon. Gentleman now thought not, but some years since a contrary opinion was held. There were people even to this day who believed that the remission of these taxes would let loose a flood of pestilent publications destructive of the public morals; and he held in his hand a circular that referred to that question. The opinion was very prevalent that there were many millions of cheap publications circulating of a most pernicious character. He feared it could not be denied that a great number of these publications were of a most pernicious character; but he should like to know what was the best means of meeting them? It was to produce for the working man, what he most surely prefers, a more healthy description of mental aliment. But they denied them the one, and allowed them the other freely. They permitted these immoral and mischievous penny publications, which excited the imagination, stimulated the passions, and produced the most evil effects on those who read them, especially the younger class of readers, while that class of literature which was calculated to counteract those evil tendencies was restricted in its free course by the stamp duty. The circular to which he alluded proposed a remedy for this. It was a circular by the editor of a cheap periodical called the True Briton, in which the writer called attention to the necessity which existed for a better class of cheap publications amongst the poor to counteract the deleterious penny literature with which the country was inundated, and urging the claims of his own periodical, but stating that unless the clergy and gentry assisted in the circulation by taking a number of copies, and distributing them in their respective localities, it was impossible that that or any similar work could circulate to a sufficient extent to meet the object which the author had in view, and in which the 1162 Earl of Shaftesbury and other philanthropic and religious individuals had expressed concurrence. If the editor of this periodical were allowed to add to the moral essays of which he (Mr. Bright) believed his paper for the most part consisted—facts; if he were allowed to make his paper partly a course of moral essays, and partly a newspaper, he would then be able to offer to his readers that which the majority would take a greater interest in than in those horrid, immoral, and mischievous stories with which the cheap literature of the day abounded; and, as Mr. Abel Heywood, who was an extensive vendor of cheap publications in Manchester said, it was always the case in the long run, the good work would drive the bad out of the market. In a subsequent pamphlet the same gentleman stated that the stamp prevented topics of local or general interest from forming any part of this paper, and the consequence was that instead of circulating on its own merits, it was obliged to be bolstered up by Lord Shaftesbury. What was necessary to engage the public attention was, not mere extracts from books or moral disquisitions, but the facts of everyday life; and if these were allowed to be published freely they would find that instead of the degrading sources of literary enjoyment to which the people now resorted, there would be a cheap newspaper on every man's table, as it was in New York, and that newspaper would be the indication that himself, his wife, and his children, possessed the art of reading as well as those of hearing and speaking. The editor of the True Briton said, that though his paper circulated largely, it had not a paying sale. It could not have a paying sale because of the stamp duty, which had, since its reduction to a penny, strangled hundreds of useful publications, though it had no effect in putting down the immoral and pernicious trash of which the majority of the penny literature of the day was composed. The only way to counteract the evil tendency of those mischievous publications was to make the press free—to make the press the censor and corrector of the press. And at a time like the present, when it was impossible to prevent the extension of political power, it was the duty of a Government entertaining a sincere desire that education should be extended, also to make a bold attempt to settle this question of the taxes on knowledge once and for all. The question was not one of revenue merely; and it ap- 1163 peared to him that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not the Minister who ought therefore to have answered the Motion. It was clear that the fiscal loss which would result from the remission of the advertisement and the newspaper stamp duties, would be so trifling that it ought not for a moment to be put in the balance against the immense moral advantages which would follow. There was one point, however, in reference to the loss to the revenue, to which his right hon. Colleague had not alluded—that was, that if you abolished the stamp, you would have five times the newspaper circulation you have now; and if 1d. or one halfpenny were charged for postage, the probability was that an amount equal to, or more than equal to, the revenue derived from the stamp duty, would be obtained from that source. With respect to the paper duty, he did not ask on the present occasion for the abolition of that tax. It was possible the Chancellor of the Exchequer might make as good a case in regard to the soap duty as the paper duty; and if he (Mr. Bright) were called upon to choose between those two duties, he admitted he should have some difficulty. But the other two duties—the advertisement and the stamp duty—were connected with a question of high policy—that policy which the House had long ago adopted—upon which the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell) had apparently set his heart—the policy of educating the people. With the general agreement which existed in the opinion that the people should have no restrictions placed on their education, that free discussion was the law of the constitution, and the law of the prevalent religion of this country, he (Mr. Bright) could not believe, after the speech of his right hon. Colleague. that the House would permit any Chancellor of the Exchequer for any long period—not, it was to be hoped, beyond this Session—to insist on maintaining taxes which placed restrictions on the means of education.
§ MR. W. WILLIAMS
said, that the only objection which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had urged against the adoption of these Resolutions was, that he could not afford to lose a revenue to the amount of 1,500,000l. The right hon. Gentleman calculated that the falling-off of the revenue would be equal to the diminution of taxation; but that was evidently a great error. He wished to remind the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, that of all 1164 the previous taxes that had been taken off, not more than one-third had been lost to the revenue. He therefore fully believed that if he were to abandon these taxes, the country would not lose more than 500,000l., while if the right hon. Gentleman had taken his advice with respect to the legacy and probate duties, he would have increased the amount of the revenue by 5,000,000l. He fully believed that a saving of another 1,000,000l. would be effected by bringing the expenses of collecting the taxes under the control of this House. He was sorry the hon. and learned Attorney General was not in his place, because he wished to ask him a question with regard to this duty. There was a publication on the other side of the water, in the borough he had the honour to represent, called the Lambeth Gazette. It was a monthly publication, and as such it was exempted from taxation. Last month a great public meeting was held in the borough, and the proprietor of the Gazette, being anxious to publish an account of it, went to the Stamp Office and asked whether he could purchase stamps for that publication, so as to publish that meeting. He was told he might do so by registering the paper, and on the faith of that answer the proprietor purchased the stamps; but he afterwards received a message to say that, if he published the paper with these stamps, he would be liable to penalties for every other unstamped publication. He wanted to know from the hon. and learned Attorney General [who entered the House while the hon. Gentleman was speaking] what was the law with regard to that case?
MR. DIGBY SEYMOUR
said, he would not detain the House many minutes, but this was a question in which his constituents took a very deep interest. He rose to express his approval of the Resolutions, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman who had introduced them would not be deterred from pressing them to a division. Judging from the manner in which he had been met, the right hon. Gentleman had no reason to fear that his argument would be weakened in the judgment of the House by the case which had been urged by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That right hon. Gentleman had stated that several applications had been made to him during the present Session for a repeal of different descriptions of taxes. The proper answer to give to that argument was, that inasmuch as not one of those applications had been granted, there was the greater reason 1165 why the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester should felicitate himself in the belief that he had made out a stronger case for pressing upon the Government his claim, and for calling upon them to make an exception in his favour. It was not fair to put this question in the same category with the hop duty or the wine duty. It was not a question simply affecting the perishing wants and necessities of the people, but it was one which concerned the educational and the intellectual cravings and tastes of the great body of the poorer classes of the community. When, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) asked the House to accede to his Resolutions, he was making an appeal to them on higher grounds than those on which any of the other appeals mentioned by the Chancellor of the Exchequer were based. The Chancellor of the Exchequer seemed very much to disapprove of abstract Resolutions. Now, he could not forget the memorable night, soon after he took his seat in that House, when an abstract Resolution was most ably and fully discussed, whether the free-trade policy was "wise, just, and beneficial;" and it appeared to him that the Resolutions now before them were equally worthy the attention of the House. And what, after all, was it that was now asked? Not that the House should give a distinct pledge to repeal the whole of the duties mentioned in the Resolutions, for the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester confined himself at present to a sum of 170,000l. only; but what he asked the House to do was to affirm the principle of the Resolutions. No one could deny that the advertisement duty was unjust in its Incidence. The rich man who announced a sale, in order to put money into his pocket, could afford the tax; but the poor man who wanted employment could not make his want known without being equally taxed. Was that just? With respect to the advertisement duty, he believed the increase in advertisements, if the duty was taken off, would be 10,000,000 instead of 5,000,000 as had been said. Then, again, with regard to the stamp duty on newspapers, it had been said that some compensation was given for that duty by the paper being allowed to pass through the Post Office; but that compensation was absurdly partial, for, while you might send a paper backwards and forwards from one end of the Kingdom to the other by virtue of the penny stamp duty, you could not circulate the same stamped paper within the three 1166 miles' district of London without paying postage, in addition to the stamp duty on the paper itself. But it might be said that it was a question affecting the improved character of the press; and it had been observed that "cheap and nasty" were terms applicable to literature as well as to other things. But experience vindicated the argument of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson), as the Penny Cyclopœdia, Chambers's Journal, and the works of other enterprising publishers throughout the country, fully proved. Upon all these grounds, he should give his cordial support to the Resolutions.
§ MR. J. G. PHILLIMORE
said, he was extremely anxious not to let the debate close without expressing his entire concurrence in the Resolutions now proposed to the House. They related to a subject which he could scarcely conceive it possible that any one could reflect on for a moment without feeling how directly it bore on the social happiness and stability of the Empire. The speech of the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer, ingenious as it was, did not appear to him (Mr. Phillimore) to contain any substantial argument against those portions of the Resolutions which referred to the tax on advertisements, and to the newspaper duty. With regard to the tax on paper, he was willing for the present to waive the further consideration of that question; but with respect to the other propositions, able and eloquent as the Chancellor of the Exchequer's speech undoubtedly was, yet he had had recourse to arguments of a very weak and unsubstantial character in order to meet the clear, conclusive, comprehensive, and logical speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester. It could not be doubted that at present the country was inundated by a flood of mischievous and pestiferous publications, calculated to excite the passions, and create a morbid taste among the people. These works could not at the present moment be effectually counteracted by wholesome writings that would minister salutary food to the craving appetite for reading which so extensively prevailed, because of the impediments thrown in the way of cheap publications by the existing stamp duty. He was thoroughly persuaded that both the social and the moral condition of the people might be greatly improved by a repeal of that duty. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that that would involve a sacrifice of revenue. Even if it did so, it 1167 would be well worth the sacrifice; but since it had been shown that the sacrifice, if any, would be very inconsiderable, he was at a loss to conceive how the right hon. Gentleman, holding the character of a statesman, could hesitate to repeal a tax so obnoxious and so mischievous. He would not enter into a long history of the Licensing Act; but it could not be denied that the original object of that Act, and afterwards of these taxes, was to prevent the diffusion of information and the circulation of knowledge among the people. That was a fact perfectly beyond dispute. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said he did not countenance that object. If so, then why keep up the tax? It could not be for the sake of revenue. Here, then, was the fallacy of his argument. It was fair for the right hon. Gentleman to say that no one should propose to abolish a tax until he found a substitute; and so strongly did he (Mr. Phillimore) feel the force of that argument in the several cases which the right hon. Gentleman had mentioned, that he followed the right hon. Gentleman into the lobby on all those occasions. But there were cases in which that argument must give way to higher considerations. No doubt, if any of those propositions had been successful, these Resolutions would never have been proposed; but, having been proposed, and the evil which they were intended to remedy being so great, while the sacrifice they involved was so inconsiderable, he deemed it to be the duty of every man, for the welfare of the lower classes of this country, to record his vote along with the right hon. Member for Manchester. It was quite clear that the great mass of the community must find amusement in some way or other. The darkness from which they chased the better genii would be haunted by the spectres of vice and folly. In that sense the old scholastic aphorism was true, that nature abhorred a vacuum. The mind would not remain in a state of torpid in-activity. Did they suppose that a gross and uneducated person would withstand those temptations which the most educated and intellectual were not always able to resist? He asked none to agree with the Resolutions who believed that by doing so it would involve a great sacrifice of revenue; but he had a right to ask those to support the Resolutions who believed the sacrifice would be trifling; he had a right to ask those who valued the education of the people to support a vote having so im- 1168 portant a tendency; and, finally, he had a right to ask of those who would convert a cause of just alarm into an element of safety and stability, that as this Parliament had brought cheap bread to the homes of the poor, they would minister with equal zeal to the higher cravings of their spiritual and intellectual nature.
§ MR. J. L. RICARDO
said, the question actually before the House was, whether the advertisement duty ought to be repealed or not, and he had not yet heard a single argument urged against the proposition of the right hon. Member for Manchester, for the right bon Chancellor of the Exchequer had confined himself to an indignant remonstrance against any individual Member having dared to bring forward any question affecting the finances of the country. He had failed to show that there would be any important loss to the country from the repeal of the advertisement duty. They ought to have some expression of opinion from the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) the Member for London, with regard to the policy of the question. In 1836, a deputation upon the subject had waited upon Lord Melbourne, of whose Government the noble Lord was then a Member, and Lord Melbourne said he should never consent to put this question upon the mean and paltry footing of a revenue question, as it was a social question, and as such only he would consider it. Under these circumstances, the noble Lord was now bound to state his views to the House. He also hoped they should have some information with regard to the law of the question from the law officers of the Crown. He would put a case on which he wished to have the opinion of the hon. and learned Attorney General. The present law appeared to give a sort of roving commission to the Board of Inland Revenue, who went about picking out and prosecuting particular publications, and leaving others, those he presumed of which they approved, wholly untouched. It had been said that the censorship of the press had expired sixty years ago; but he believed that Mr. Timm, the Solicitor to the Board of Inland Revenue, was in fact the real censor of the British press. He did not know what that gentleman's political opinions were; but if he was a Radical, it was in his power to prosecute unstamped Conservative publications; and if he were a Conservative, he might prosecute unstamped Radical publications. But all his prosecutions were not attended with 1169 success, and he bad therefore abandoned proceeding with them in the regular way; but be now assumed that parties had offended against the law, and he brought them up before a police magistrate, and had them punished in that way. He had proceeded in this manner, not against the publisher of an unstamped work, but against an unfortunate man who only sold it. He agreed with the Resolution of his right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson), in thinking that this was a most unsatisfactory state of the law. He also thought that the law was unsatisfactorily administered by the Board of Inland Revenue, and by the law officers of the Crown. The House ought to have an explanation from the Attorney General as to whether any steps were to be taken to put an end to this state of things, and what the measure would be which the Chancellor of the Exchequer had so faintly shadowed forth in his speech. He trusted the hon. and learned Attorney General would give an answer to his question, as this was a subject which was interesting to a great number of people, who wished to understand under what circumstances they would be guilty of an infringement of the law.
The ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he fully acknowledged the right of any hon. Member to put questions on a subject of this kind, but he must be allowed to say that they were sometimes put in such an unintelligible form that there was very great difficulty in answering them. A more vague and uncertain question than that which had now been put, he could scarcely conceive. He did not know whether he was called upon to state his opinion of the law, or his opinion of Mr. Timm's practice, or the alteration to be proposed in the Bill about to be introduced by his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He certainly had nothing to say with respect to Mr. Timm. Mr. Timm did not act under him. One of the great complaints made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester was, that Mr. Timm had written various letters to the publishers or proprietors of different publications in the country. Now, he could only say that in doing so Mr. Timm had not acted under the advice of the law officers of the Crown. If Mr. Timm had stated on the part of the Inland Revenue Office that certain parties were bringing themselves under the penalties of the law, the opinion of the law officers of the Crown had not been taken on the 1170 subject. With respect to the remarks of the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken (Mr. J. L. Ricardo), he could only say that whatever vagueness there might be with respect to the proceedings in the Court of Exchequer, there was no uncertainty in regard to the law, and there never was a clearer case of the infraction of the law than in the case of the paper published in Staffordshire, of which the hon. Gentleman was a supporter. If that was not a newspaper under the Act of Parliament, neither ought the Times, the Morning Chronicle, nor the Morning Herald to be liable to the stamp duty. It was a newspaper in the ordinary sense of the word, published at short intervals, and containing ordinary news and intelligence. The hon. Gentleman wished to know the nature of the proposed alteration in the law. It became necessary to settle the law in consequence of the state of things which arose some time ago in this way. Under the old stamp law every publication containing news and intelligence was liable to pay a stamp duty; and with the view of making the law more stringent, an Act was passed at the close of the reign of George III. for the purpose of catching the smaller publications, which were supposed to be disseminating sedition and blasphemy throughout the country, and by that Act it was provided that every paper containing any news or intelligence published at intervals not exceeding twenty-six days, of certain dimensions, and published at certain periods, should be liable to the stamp duty. In the case to which public attention had been so much directed, the Court of Exchequer held that the general enactment had merged into the other, and that unless a publication was published at intervals within twenty-six days, it was no longer liable to the stamp duty; and therefore the Act of Parliament, which was intended to make the law more stringent, had had a contrary effect. It was necessary to do one of two things—either to repeal the stamp duty altogether, or amend the law and make it intelligible. Now it was intended not only to remedy some of the defects of the stamp duties, but to establish the ruling of the Court of Exchequer, and to exempt from the stamp duty such publications as the Household Narrative, taking care that those publications which are really newspapers should not escape, by the decision of the Court of Exchequer, from the duties to which they are justly liable.
§ MR. WILKINSON
said, that the hon. 1171 and learned Attorney General had not answered the question which had been put to him by his hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. W. Williams). A gentleman in Lambeth had published a newspaper, in one number of which he wished to publish a statement of proceedings which were to take place at a political meeting in that borough. He made inquiries at the office of Inland Revenue, and was told that he might do so if he put a stamp on his papers. He then bought several hundred stamps, and prepared for the publication. In the meantime a rival went to the office, and made his statement, and the publisher was then told that he would be doing wrong if he issued the publication. He wished the Attorney General to give some explanation of this circumstance.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
said, the object of the Motion of the right hon. Member for Manchester might be stated in a very small compass. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had shown to the House that upwards of 7,000,000l. had been asked in remission of taxation, before he had had the opportunity of making his financial statement. It had been answered, although this remission has been asked for, the House has not sanctioned any of the proposals which have been made. That was quite true, and his right hon. Friend now asked the House to pursue the same course on this occasion, and leave him free to state, on Monday next, his views of the public revenue and expenditure, his opinion what remissions it will be possible to make, and what those remissions ought to be. He thought the House ought at once to accede to so reasonable a request. On the other hand, he did not wonder that his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, being strongly impressed with the injury caused by these taxes to the country, by preventing the diffusion of knowledge, should bring the subject before the House, and enforce his views in the very able manner which he was so capable of doing. At no time had he heard the right hon. Gentleman state his case more fully and more ably. Last year, however, the House had the same question under consideration, and the three propositions now before the House were rejected by a very considerable majority. It seemed to him that the three propositions stood on very different grounds, and he did not think the general term "taxes on knowledge," a term which could by any latitude of construction apply to the duties referred to in 1172 the Resolutions. With regard to the first tax, there certainly was very little to be said for its maintenance. The right hon. Gentleman had very truly said that it was a great interference with the business of the country. It interfered with the requirements and wants of persons who either wished to procure situations or to dispose of property, and with the various ways of conducting all those transactions of sale and purchase which it was desirable to facilitate. It might likewise be said that it was not a tax of a very large amount—that it was a tax interfering with the business of the country, and was certainly a tax placed on the transactions that took place, because in the first place they had a tax on paper, in the next place they had a tax on the newspaper, and in the next place they had a tax on the advertisements contained in the newspaper. With regard to the second question, he did not think it stood on the same ground as that to which he had just adverted. The right hon. Gentleman considered it a restraint on the diffusion of news, and information, and knowledge. Now, if it was intended as a restraint, he (Lord J. Russell) did not think it consorted with the policy of this country to impose such a restraint. But while he thought it a tax rather for revenue than for restraint, he thought the argument on the other side carried a great deal too far, and that the benefit expected from the abolition of such a tax had been exceedingly overstated. He could not understand how the removal of the penny stamp would be favourable to everything religious, and moral, and useful, and at the same time give no further advantages and facilities for those who wanted to imbibe that which was irreligious and immoral. It appeared to him that if one class would be able to sell cheaper, so would the other; and it was unfortunately the case that there was a class of the community more calculated to support publications which would excite their passions, than publications of a moral and religious character.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
He was afraid that they would still exist, even if the stamp duty should be removed, and that persons would still be found purchasing them. On the other hand, it was said there would be a vast amount of useful publications. He confessed he did not see how the amount would be much greater than at present; and he did not think the expectation of 1173 Lord Brougham, that papers would be circulated by hawkers, was an expectation likely to be realised. The papers were at present published at 5d., of which price the stamp duty formed one-fifth, the difference being occasioned by the great expense to which proprietors were obliged to go in order to gain rapid and authentic information. These expenses were so large, that the papers could not pay otherwise than at a considerable price. Now, with respect to the tax on paper. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) said he was not sure whether, if he had before him a proposal to abolish the tax on soap or the paper duty, which of the two he would choose. In that state of doubt, he did not understand how the hon. Member could vote for the third Resolution; and he did not see how other hon. Members could vote for the condemnation of a tax when they had not made up their minds that it ought to be repealed. When hon. Members had made up their minds it would be time enough for them to vote for the repeal of the tax. What he now wished to put to the House was this—that as his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer intonded to make his statement on Monday, it would hardly be fair on the part of the House at present to express an opinion as to the taxation of the country. On the part of the Government, and on the part of his right hon. Friend, he asked the House not to decide, without any necessity, on a question of taxation on which the opinions of the Government were so shortly to be expressed.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, as he had the honour of holding the office of Chancellor of the Exchequer when a discussion took place last year on a nearly similar Motion, brought forward by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester, the House would perhaps pardon him for making one or two observations on the question now before the House. He quite understood and sympathised with the feeling expressed by Her Majesty's Ministers generally on Motions of this kind. The late Government had to consider a similar proposition with the same responsibility. They had to consider the course which they should pursue with respect to the three taxes which the right hon. Gentleman had that evening brought under consideration, before the Budget. He had on that occasion to consult his Colleagues, and especially Lord Derby, on the question; and he last year endeavoured to convey to 1174 the House the conclusions at which they had arrived. It certainly was the opinion of the late Government, objectionable as they thought the excise on paper, that upon the whole it could be considered only, in the present state of our financial system, as an excise duty, and that it was not prudent to permit any other consideration to influence their opinion. That was the conclusion which he had the honour to convey to the House; but he said then, as he said now, that he approached the other two taxes with very different feelings. The Government could distinguish a great difference between the duty on advertisements and the stamp on newspapers and the excise on paper; and they also were of opinion that there was a great difference between the duty on advertisements—taking every thing into consideration—and the stamp on newspapers. Well, quoting from memory, he had said, on that occasion, that the duty on advertisements was one of so grave a character that it must arrest the attention of any Ministry whatever. He asked the House to postpone any decision on the subject, and fortunate was the Chancellor of the Exchequer who could induce a powerful party in that House to postpone a declaration of their opinions for his convenience. He confessed very frankly that he considered it a very great indulgence; but he must warn the House, that it was necessary to draw a line, and that it was not right, practically, to acknowledge that no person was to propose a remission of a tax in the House of Commons except the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That was an extremely dangerous doctrine, and one which, he trusted, all sides would be very careful before they fully admitted. At a subsequent period, acting on the opinion which, on the part of the Government of Lord Derby, he was the organ of communicating to that House, he had to consider the question specially as to the duty upon advertisements; and it certainly was the opinion of his Colleagues that no time should be lost in proposing to the House of Commons the repeal of that duty. Afterwards circumstances occurred, over which he had no control, and an increase of the Estimates rendered it necessary to ask for a supplementary vote, and then it became the duty of the Government to reverse their decision. [Lord J. RUSSELL: Hear, hear!] If the noble Lord supposed he was now making a declaration which was not perfectly warranted by facts, he could only say that he should not have presumed to 1175 refer to anything which had occurred in Council or in private conversation. But it would be remembered by many hon. Gentlemen present that a deputation waited on Lord Derby on the subject, and that all he (Mr. Disraeli) had now said was then expressed by Lord Derby, justifying the declaration he had now made. That being the case, having shown the House by reference to circumstances, the accuracy of which no one could question, that there was a sincere desire on the part of the late Government to terminate the duty on advertisements, he would now look at the present position of the question, and the ability of the existing Government to meet a demand of this kind. It was the opinion of Lord Derby—his Government having chalked out to themselves a certain system of dealing with the general taxation of the country—that, on the whole, it was better, after what had accidentally occurred, that the consideration of the duty on advertisements should be postponed until they had to consider, according to the plan they had devised, other duties of an analogous character. Now, what was the position of the existing Government as to their ability of meeting a demand of this kind? The House would recollect that the duty on advertisements was about 170,000l.—less, certainly, than 180,000l. The House was aware, from the published revenue accounts recently placed on the table, that the surplus at the command of the Minister was very considerable—much more considerable than that at which lie (Mr. Disraeli) had prudently stated it, and he hoped it would not be deemed a flagrant indiscretion on his part that he had estimated the amount of the revenue at less than it actually appeared to be. On referring to the accounts the House would see that the surplus was greater than he had calculated upon, and that the amount now proposed to be dealt with was very inconsiderable. The question then was, would the House be justified in dealing with the first Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester? In his opinion, the House would not be justified in dealing with all the three Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman. Not taking into view all those political and moral considerations which he had brought forward, but looking at the subject merely in a financial point of view, he did not think the House would be justified in dealing with such an amount of revenue as was touched by the three Reso- 1176 lutions. In the first place, he must adhere to the opinion which he expressed last year on the part of the late Government, that these three duties ought to be considered as fiscal duties, and in no other light. But making that admission, he thought they must deal with considerable moderation and discretion with an amount scarcely less than 1,500,000l. He proposed, in the present instance, only to consider the first Resolution that would be put from the Chair—namely, that relating to the repeal of the advertisement duty, which did not amount to 180,000l. per annum. Now, what was the principal argument brought forward by the noble Lord the leader of the Government? If there was any inference to be completely drawn from the argument of the noble Lord, it was this—that no proposition for the remission of a tax should be made before the Budget was proposed; and what chance a proposition of such a kind would have after the Budget was proposed, he (Mr. Disraeli) would leave the House to decide. The position taken by the noble Lord was this—that the Administration of the day should possess the exclusive privilege and monopoly of proposing all remisions of taxation. Now, he (Mr. Disraeli) asked both sides of the House well to consider how such a course of proceeding would work. Take those taxes the remission of which was generally acknowledged to have produced the most beneficial effect on the community. Had they at first been proposed by a Minister, or had they been propounded by independent Members on both sides, and after repeated discussions adopted by the force of public opinion and the influence of general conviction? Let the House look to the Motions made by Lord Althorp and the most eminent country Gentlemen after the Peace. Take, for instance, the Motion respecting the tax on leather, and other Motions of a similar kind. Why, they were not made by Ministers, but they were made by country Gentlemen. He need not allude to other more memorable instances which affected the levying of the revenue in more modern times, in the times in which they themselves lived. Had they been originated by Ministers? Had they not, on the contrary, been adopted by Ministers often against their own convictions, or after a conversion of a singular and startling nature? Well, then, he thought that the view which the noble Lord the Member for the City of London 1177 had impressed upon the House was one of a dangerous description, and which the House must pause to accept, if it regarded its character as being something more than an assembly to register the decrees of as Minister. He (Mr. Disraeli) could not suppose, however, that there were many Gentlemen on the other side of the House who cared to maintain that neutral character. That being the case, what chance had they of dealing with this question if they omitted the present opportunity? He would recommend the House to act with great temper and moderation. He did not want them to come to any extravagant vote—he would sanction nothing of the kind himself; but he was prepared to vote for the repeal of the advertisement duty, because, when filling a more responsible position, he had been willing to adopt that course, and his friends also had been prepared to approve of it. It might not satisfy the right hon. Gentleman opposite and his friends; but his (Mr. Disraeli's) business was not to please them, but to do that which, under all the circumstances, he believed to be the most politic and prudent, and to take that course which was most beneficial to the country, He himself was of opinion that the press could not be too free. As at present constituted, it was considered that the tendency of its efforts was not favourable to the party with which he was connected, and to the views which he advocated. It was not impossible—it was more than possible—that a press eminently utilitarian, and which appealed only to reason, might exercise an influence against them which they could not readily withstand. A Conservative press was one which appealed not only to reason but to feeling, and if the power of the press were greater, if its influence were more extended and its agency more diffused, he believed that the Conservative portion of it would be proportionately more influential. He, for one, did not think that if the press were more free, the influence of the opinions which they (the Conservative party) advocated would be less felt. He, therefore, had no fear on that account; but he did not wish at present to argue the subject on that general ground. He looked to the first Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester; and he observed that it recommended a policy which he believed to be sound and beneficial, and which formerly, in a more responsible position, he had advocated and upheld, He trusted 1178 that the House would not miss this opportunity of dealing with the question which had been again opened for their consideration to-night, but that they would support the right hon. Gentleman in his first Resolution, and by their decision settle for ever the repeal of the duty upon advertisements.
§ MR. SIDNEY HERBERT
said, he would not enter into the general question at present before the House, but he should be sorry if the House were to divide under the impression of the statement which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. The right hon. Gentleman, adverting in a tone of some indignation to a cheer on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, had asserted a fact which nobody had denied, namely, that to a deputation which had waited on Lord Derby the right hon. Gentleman and Lord Derby had expressed an abstract opinion in favour of the repeal of the advertisement duty. But abstract opinions entertained by Ministers were sometimes overruled by great financial necessities; and the right hon. Gentleman holding, as he did, that abstract opinion had not thought it necessary, when he proposed his Budget, even to express any very strong opinion in favour of the modification of those taxes; but he and the Gentlemen acting with him had voted against every one of the propositions for the repeal of those taxes. And in the Budget of the right hon. Gentleman—he (Mr. S. Herbert) spoke of the Budget of 1853–4—neither had there been any proposition for the repeal of those taxes. But that was not all that had taken place. That Budget was one which dived some distance into futurity, and it seemed that the abstract opinion, which had had no present effect on the right hon. Gentleman, had no more guided his conduct with respect to the future, because in the resources for 1854–5, when the right hon. Gentleman had every means at his disposal, no margin whatever had been left for dealing with those taxes. Now, what did the right hon. Gentleman ask the House to do? The financial statement was coming on next Monday, and the right hon. Gentleman told the House not to imagine that the surplus for the coming year was to be judged of by the surplus of the last year; and because the surplus for the past year had been larger than he had anticipated, he seemed to think that the House ought to assume that the surplus for the com- 1179 ing year would be much larger. He (Mr. S. Herbert) would not anticipate the statement of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer; but he hoped that no one would suppose that there would be so large a surplus as that imagined by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli); and he said that it was the height of unfairness in the right hon. Gentleman, who when he and his friends had been in office, and had had a larger surplus to deal with than existed at present, they had refused to entertain any proposal for the repeal of those taxes, now to say that the present Government, with a smaller surplus, was bound to take into consideration the repeal of taxes which the right hon. Gentleman had never contemplated dealing with at all. The right hon. Gentleman had in fact endeavoured to make out that the House and his (Mr. S. Herbert's) right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought now to reverse the course which the right hon. Gentleman had taken last year, and, having far less means at their disposal, were bound to meet demands which abstractedly every one agreed to. He (Mr. S. Herbert) was anxious that the House should not he under the impression of the mis-statement which had been made with regard to the financial prospects of the country. He trusted that the House would have sufficient confidence in his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and would give him fair play on this question, so that he might come before them on Monday unembarrassed by a previous vote, which must of couse affect his entire case.
§ Mr. J. BALL
said, that he would be no party to a vote which would be joined in by Members opposite, who had no cordial or sincere sympathy with the objects for which the vote was taken, and which they would do merely to prepare the way for the return of their friends to power.
§ MR. COBDEN
said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had very suddenly changed his opinion. He was now going to vote against the proposal which he was before ready to support, and the reason appeared to be that he thought there was now some chance of its being carried. If the hon. Gentleman was always to act upon this principle, then he would only give his support to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) on the condition that he would first give him a guarantee that 1180 he should be in a minority. He presumed the right hon. Gentleman who brought the present question forward was in earnest, and really wished to see these taxes on knowledge abolished, or, if he could, any one of them. The question was, should they accept the offer of assistance made by hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the House to carry this first proposition with respect to the advertisement duty? He accepted their offer of assistance with all his heart. Something had been said about hon. Gentlemen opposite being now willing to do that which they were not ready to do when Members of an Administration. But this might be said of Members on both sides of the House, whose opinions were too frequently influenced by the position they occupied—namely, whether they sat on the Speaker's right hand or on his left. Unhappily, it was too true that when Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side of the House crossed over to the left of the Speaker's chair, they became more prolific in promises and professions than when they were on that side, and the rule applied equally to the Gentlemen now opposite. His experience in that House had taught him to support a useful proposal from what side soever it originated—to support what he believed to be a useful measure, whether it did or did not originate in party views. The hour was now so late that he would not enter upon the main question, but he wished to advert to certain observations that had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord John Russell), in reference to penny publications, because he thought it was a subject not generally understood in that House. They had been talking about the repeal of the stamp as if a great number of penny publications would be for the first time produced; but the fact was, that at the present moment penny weekly publications exceeded in circulation all the other publications put together. As to the extract from the pamphlet which had been read by his hon. Friend (Mr. Bright), he admitted that he did not think the character of penny publications was of the most desirable nature, but, at the same time, he was not of opinion that those publications, generally speaking, were offensive to decency or good morals. He would read a portion of the evidence of Mr. Heywood, of Manchester, who was examined before the Committee which sat on Advertisement Duty, &c. Mr. Heywood was one of the largest vendors of cheap publications in the 1181 Kingdom—one-tenth of the whole of the cheap publications he (Mr. Cobden) believed, passed through his hands; and Mr. Heywood, in his examination, gave a list of penny publications which would show the sort of literature in which a certain class of the people indulged. Mr. Heywood said—I sell 100 of the Black Monk, 100 of the Blighted Heart, 100 of the Bridal Ring, and 550 of Claude Duval—a great many boys read that, and grown-up people, as well as boys, buy it; 100 of Captain Hawk, 400 of Gentleman Jack, 100 of Grace Rivers, 50 of the Hangman's Daughter, 250 of Kathleen (which is an Irish story), 100 of Love and Mystery, 100 of Mabel, 250 of Mazeppa, 350 of Paul Clifford, 250 of Richard Parker. Lloyd has made free with many of the popular names of works that are from time to time being issued by the novelists of the day—350 of Three Fingered Jack, and 250 of Tom King."Those were all novels, and sold at one penny a number. They might laugh at this recital, but this kind of literature was, in a manner, forced by them on the people, because, from their excise and stamp laws, they would not permit them to have publications of a superior class—they would not allow them to publish matters of fact, such as the current events of the day. Mr. Heywood spoke of other publications, such as the Family Herald, of which 200,000 were sold weekly, and of which he spoke in the highest terms, stating that he brought it home for the perusal of his own family. He was then asked, "Are you of opinion that a cheap newspaper—for instance, one of those publications containing, in addition to its other matter, the current events of the day—would have an extensive sale? Yes; I think, for instance, that if the editor of the Family Herald were to put in two or three pages of news, along with the matter which he gives weekly to his readers, that the sale would be doubled or trebled very shortly; the sale of that publication being 200,000 already, but as general topics were excluded from it, it was obliged to have recourse to tales, and matter of that sort." He (Mr. Cobden) had said that those publications were not so bad as they were represented, and he believed that there was nothing offensive to decency or morality in those tales, with the strange names, which he had mentioned. They certainly dealt in the terrible and wonderful, and were written in a manner calculated to gratify the imaginative taste of the young, but there was not a general tendency to obscenity or immorality in them. Mr. Heywood's evidence was conclusive on that 1182 subject, for he said again and again that if they were of that nature they could not continue to live. He was asked, "Has your experience shown that the bad publications put down the good, or that the good publications put down the bad?" He said—I think that the good publications put down the bad. The bad publications are attempted, and they are carried on for a while under various methods; and, after getting deeply into debt, they are obliged at last to go out, and perhaps knock up the publisher at the same time.That was the evidence of a person who dealt very largely in that class of publications; he was a member of the Manchester Town Council, and a very respectable man. He (Mr. Cobden) knew that the Conservative party dreaded the establishment of cheap papers. Did they not think that, as they must now go along with the people for weal or for woe, and take the tone of their politics from them, would it not be better to let them have better aliment than the Hangman's Daughter? Had they not better have news and information on the topics of the day, than tales relating to times long by? Instead of romances of the time of Louis XIV., would it not be better to let them know that Prince Albert had been laying the foundation-stone for a new model cottage, and all the leading news of the day, instead of the supposed occurrences of a century ago? They were told that the people were low and rude in their manners, and much had been lately said of the ruffianism of cabmen, who congregated at the corners of streets, and were insolent to passengers and insulting to ladies. Would it not be better to let them have their cheap papers? If any Gentleman had been, as he (Mr. Cobden) had been, in New York, he must have seen among the first sights that met his eye, the cabmen (and they were all either Irishmen or blacks, for no American citizen would condescend to be a cabman), each with his small paper in his hand; and the same thing was to be seen among the porters waiting to be hired. Would it not be better to have something of the same kind here, than to have the cabmen congregating at the corners of the streets, and offending the passers by with their ribaldry? The Committee on Taxes on Knowledge examined an American gentleman, one of the Commissioners for the Exhibition, who said that in New York daily papers were delivered at the houses of mechanics, such as shipbuilders, coopers, or masons, as regularly as at the houses 1183 of merchants and bankers here. It must be a high condition of intellect among mechanics that required this supply of papers, and they must, after reading them, go forth to their labour with a great increase of intelligence; and, putting the matter very low, he (Mr. Cobden) said that we in this country could not afford to allow the people to be less intelligent than that of America. See how great would be the advantage that would be derived from making this reduction at a time when everything is quiet. What was the effect of the taking the fetters off the press in France during the first and the last revolutions? The tone of the press at once resolved into the extreme of revolutionary writing. But if you were to remove the obstructions on the press now, when the people were happy and contented, you would see that they would discuss great questions of politics as temperately as the higher classes. You would perhaps see things in those cheap papers with which many of you would disagree, and perhaps he (Mr. Cobden) might see some of his strict political notions disapproved; he might perhaps see his notions on the peace question dealt very hardly with by the combativeness of his countrymen; but he would have no objection to allow that discussion; and, if he found that his principles would not bear discussion, he would abandon them. Then, again, as regarded emigration, you prevented the people from knowing a great deal about what they were to do when they went abroad. Now, in America, in New York, there were papers from which every man could get all the information he required for one penny. The operative in New York found himself raised in the scale of social existence by the superior facilities for obtaining information—let them offer similar facilities in England. Why should they forbid those advantages to the operatives in England which were afforded to our fellow-subjects in the Colonies? What was the fact? Why, in Canada, where there was no stamp duty on newspapers, with its comparatively scanty population, there were more daily papers published than in the whole of England. Was it any wonder, then, that our fellow-countrymen, when they went to America, perceived the advantage which time absence of those restrictions afforded them, and that others were anxious to follow them and participate in those benefits? The same sort of principle might be witnessed in this country under many circum- 1184 stances. Why should not the upper and middle classes enjoy themselves quite as much in participating in amusements, when they saw the humble classes enjoying themselves, as otherwise? Railways had first, second, and third class passengers. In the grand stand at Epsom the nobleman enjoyed himself all the more from seeing his humble fellow-subjects enjoy themselves on the race-course:—what occupant of a box or a stall at the theatre was ever rendered more unhappy by the enjoyments of the upper gallery? The same principle would operate regarding newspapers. The cheap newspaper would afford information and amusement for the poor man without any deterioration of the enjoyment which the higher-priced newspaper afforded the more wealthy. He had heard quite enough of false prophecy, with respect to the evils which would flow from cheapness, to make him disbelieve predictions of evil from cheap newspapers. He remembered when first omnibuses were introduced, they were denounced by the press as the "omnibus nuisance." When the County Court system was proposed, they were assured they would be deluged by cheap and bad law. In fact, some men were accustomed to look upon anything cheap as necessarily bad. Let them divest their minds as soon as possible of this prejudice. He would only say, in conclusion, that after giving the subject of national education his patient and constant study for many years, he came to the deliberate conviction that it was better that the taxes upon knowledge should be removed to-morrow, than even that all the votes at present granted to promote educational purposes should be continued. Yes, he deliberately arrived at that conclusion; and such being his conviction, he would support the Resolution of his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester.
§ MR. JAMES MACGREGOR
said, as an independent Member, he wished to vindicate the course he should adopt in supporting these three Motions, irrespective of all party considerations, leaving the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer to extricate himself from his position with that ingenuity for which he was so remarkable. He had recently received a letter from a gentleman of great literary eminence, bearing strongly on this question. The writer, who was now at Athens, said—Unless you can get a book by advertising into some great circle, as the political or the circulating library circle, nothing can be done. High 1185 prices produce bad results, as we see from the tone of the books that suit circulating libraries and book clubs, which are so much in the hands of booksellers, that it is a part of the same system. The effect is seen on my book-shelves. All my best works on English history are American or German reprints, of which I never could have afforded to purchase one quarter of the original works. Grote's History of Greece, in ten volumes, cost me more than the reprints of Hallam, Robertson, Macaulay, and Carlyle. I was always aware of the immense importance of the repeal of the paper duty, which is really necessary to preserve our intellectual position, even in our own colonies.For these reasons he should certainly vote for all the Resolutions.
§ LORD ROBERT GROSVENOR
said, he had listened to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) with regret, because it tended to lower the character of public men in this country. The right hon. Gentleman said that the only argument which the noble Lord the Member for the City of London used was, that the House ought not to vote for the repeal of any tax until the Budget had been brought forward. That was a mis-statement of the argument of his noble Friend. What his noble Friend said was, that it would only be fair to the Chancellor of the Exchequer of a new Government, who was on the eve of making his financial statement, and who had been but a few weeks in office, that he should be allowed to make the announcement of his intentions to the House, and to state what the amount of his surplus would be, before committing himself to such a remission of taxation. He (Lord R. Grosvenor) had voted with the right hon. Member for Manchester last year on this question; but on this occasion he would not do so. [Laughter.] He could quite understand that laugh; but why did he say this? When the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. M. Gibson) brought his Motion forward last year, how was it met by the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli)? By a direct negative. That was very different from the course now pursued by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who stated that he agreed with the main features of the right hon. Mover's speech, and met his Motion with "the previous question," the meaning of which was understood by everybody to be that on the very first occasion possible he would reduce the duty.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said, that he would not have risen but for the last speech to which the House had listened, nor would he have noticed that speech had it fallen from any other lips than those of the noble 1186 Lord the Member for Middlesex. For that noble Lord to raise the objection to the Motion of the right hon. Member for Manchester, that it would interfere with the intentions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard to the forthcoming Budget, was most extraordinary, especially when the House recollected the triumph which the noble Lord had so recently gained over the Government with regard to a duty which realised to the revenue very nearly the same amount as the present. Where were the noble Lord's scruples to press a Chancellor of the Exchequer before he delivered his Budget, when he carried the repeal of the attorneys' certificate duty, in spite of the opposition and remonstrances of the Chancellor of the Exchequer? The noble Lord talked of lowering the character of public men. He (Sir J. Pakington) had alluded to that point the other night, and he would not further refer to it now; but he confessed he was surprised to find that the noble Lord should hold up a vote upon a mere fiscal question of this kind, on which they might exercise a fair discretion as to its bearing on the interests of the country, as being calculated to lower the character of public men; but when the tax to be repealed was one which suited his own fancy and his own views, he had no hesitation in forcing it upon a reluctant Government, and in beating them, too, in the division upon it. He (Sir J. Pakington) would not detain the House farther than to say that he would vote for the right hon. Member for Manchester's first Resolution upon the plain ground which had been alleged by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Disraeli), namely, that the question had been entertained by the late Government.
§ LORD ROBERT GROSVENOR
said, he must beg to explain that the right hon. Chancellor of the Exchequer had met his Motion for the repeal of the attorneys and solicitors' certificate day with a direct negative, whereas he met the present Motion with the previous question.
§ MR. MAGUIRE
said, it was a matter of perfect indifference to him whether the late Chancellor of the Exchequer was a convert to a certain proposition or not. If a proposition was a fair one, he (Mr. Maguire) would support it, no matter what were the consequences. He was bound to say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) had his sympathy for every proposition that he had laid down. He knew the necessity that existed in Ireland for supporting the 1187 publishers of a cheap periodical. He knew that cheap literature had suffered materially under the hands of the Excise. Useful legislation had been always supported by independent Members, and as an independent Member of that House he would certainly support the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the Advertisement Duty ought to be repealed.
Whereupon the Previous Question put,
That that Question be now put.
The House divided:—Ayes 200; Noes 169: Majority 31.
Main Question put, and a-greed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the policy of restraining the cheap periodical press from narrating current events, by rendering it liable to Stamp Duties, and other restrictions, if 'any public news, intelligence, or occurrences, or any remarks or observations thereon,' be contained therein, is inexpedient, and at variance with the desire now generally expressed in favour of the diffusion of knowledge amongst all classes; and it appears also to this House, that the Law relative to Taxes on Newspapers, and other regulations affecting public prints, is in an unsatisfactory state, and demands the attention of Parliament.
Whereupon the Previous Question put,
That that Question be now put.
The House divided:—Ayes 98; Noes 280: Majority 182.
Motion made, and Question proposed—
That the Excise Duty on Paper, whilst impeding the development of an important manufacture, also materially obstructs the production of good cheap literature; and the maintenance of this Tax as a permanent source of Revenue would be impolitic and inconsistent with the efforts which Parliament is now making to promote education amongst the great body of the people.
Whereupon the Previous Question put,
That that Question be now put.
The House divided:—Ayes 80; Noes 279: Majority 199.
§ The House adjourned at Twelve o'clock.