HC Deb 14 July 1853 vol 129 cc241-4

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving the Second Reading of this Bill said that the stamp duties upon newspaper were regulated by the Act 6 & 7 Will. IV., c. 76. This Statute contained two sections, one of which defined newspaper as publications containing news, intelligence, and information; and the other defined a newspaper to be a publication containing news, intelligence, or information, provided it were published at intervals within twenty-six days, that it did not exceed certain dimensions, an that it was sold for a price not exceeding 6d. It was always supposed, until the recent decision of the Court of Exche- quer, that these provisions embraced every species of paper, at whatever period they might be issued, and at whatever price. The Court of Exchequer, however, put a construction upon the Statute which had somewhat surprised the profession. They held that the second section, which was known to be intended to make the meshes of the net still narrower, and to embrace every newspaper not contemplated in the first, was restrictive of the first section. The decision of the Court arose upon the question of a publication published at intervals exceeding twenty-six days, as to whether it came within the meaning of the Act. The opinion of the law officers of the Crown was taken on this decision as to the propriety of an appeal; and if it had been thought expedient, there would no doubt have been an appeal against that decision. But Her Majesty's Government had thought it not desirable to go against the decision of the Court of Exchequer, or to attempt to enforce stamps upon newspapers not published within periods of twenty-six days. From the words of the two conditions embraced in the second section of the Act, there arose this difficulty—if that section was intended to be restrictive upon the more general section, then, any newspaper, not of he dimensions referred to in the Act, that as, exceeding the dimensions stated, which was sold at a price exceeding sixpence, would become exempt. Therefore the larger newspapers which were sold at a larger price, would be exempt from duty under this state of things, while a smaller newspaper which was sold at a lower price would remain liable to it. This would have been a great injustice to the smaller-priced newspapers. For instance, such papers as the Examiner and the Observer, which were sold at 6d., would pay the duty, while the Spectator,the price of which was 9d., would be exempt. The object, then, of this Bill was to establish the law, and to make it uniform with regard to all classes of newspapers whether large or small. Without going into the question of the stamp on newspapers, it was quite clear that so long as the stamp was maintained, they should all be put on equal principles. Under these circumstances he begged to move the second reading of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, there were two Bills before the House relating to this one subject of newspaper stamps —one, the Bill to which the hon. and learned Attorney General had just called attention, which defined what was a newspaper chargeable to duty; but in order to ascertain what the duty was to be, they had to go to the other Bill, which was called the Stamp Duties Bill. Now, be submitted that the definition of what was held to be a newspaper chargeable to a duty, should be found in the same Bill that contained the duty. Formerly they took the trouble to consolidate the law in reference to newspaper stamps; clauses defining what should be considered a newspaper were inserted either in or at the end of the Act. But the House was now undoing altogether what the Legislature had done some years ago, and they were redistributing the law in reference to newspapers into different Acts of Parliament. Inconveniences arose from this practice, and he suggested to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Attorney General that they should put their proposal relative to the duty upon supplements to newspapers into this Bill, by an instruction if it should not come within the title, in order that there should be, in one and the same measure, a definition of what a newspaper was, as well as the duties applicable to it. Although the Government had not been asked or induced to pay attention to this proposal, they ought to attend to it. He was only sorry it had not been thought of before parties had been put to considerable expense in defending themselves before courts of justice against the imposition of the stamp. This Bill was, in fact, a Bill for the protection of the Household Narrative; but Mr. Dickens had already protected himself through the Court of Exchequer. But after he had got his verdict, and the Judges said he was not liable, then the Government came down with a measure to exempt monthly publications from the stamp. It was very well to do so, but he did not think proprietors of monthly publications had to thank the Government for any favours, for they fought their own battles in the courts of justice; they had paid their own expenses, and, now they had established their position, the Government came forward and told them that they were to be exempted by Act of Parliament. He would now ask the right hon. Chancellor of the Excheqeer whether the costs to which the parties had been put in defending themselves against this prosecution would be paid to them, because it was but fair that they should not bear them?


said his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had stated that, in the view of the Government, there was great reason to question the decision at which the Court of Exchequer had arrived. It would have been quite open, if it had been considered a matter tending to settle the public mind upon the question, to have that decision questioned. Under these circumstances the right hon. Gentleman would see that it would be a very anomalous course, on the part of the Government, to propose to pay the costs of the parties. At the same time, he might say that the question with regard to costs had never been put before him with the arguments which the parties might think they had. With regard to the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion, that the definition of a newspaper should be in the same Bill as the charge of the duty, there might be convenience in it; at any rate it should be considered; but if it were to be done at all the better way would be to import this enactment into the Stamp Duties Bill than to take any enactment out of the Stamp Duties Bill into this.


said, all be wanted was to have a clear, distinct, and well-defined description of the law.

Bill read 2o

The House adjourned at Two o'clock.