HC Deb 19 June 1854 vol 134 cc361-4

On the Order of the Day being read for going into Committee of Supply,


rose to call the attention of the Secretary to the Treasury, in the absence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to the subject of the postage of printed matter—he did not mean newspapers—which was at present allowed to go through the post up to a certain limited weight. He understood there was a Treasury order which permitted printed matter (not being newspapers) to go through the post for a penny, the newspaper stamp being affixed to those particular copies which were intended to be sent through the post merely for postage purposes, and not because the paper really was a newspaper. He wished, in the first place, to ask whether there was any objection to lay this order on the table; and in the next, to call the hon. Gentleman's attention to the circumstance that the Board of Inland Revenue, acting under that Treasury order, required persons to make what might be called a false declaration in order to obtain the privilege thus afforded. Persons who desired that their printed matter should go through the post, franked by the newspaper stamp, were called upon by the Board to make a solemn declaration that these printed pamphlets were newspapers, when everybody knew they were not newspapers, and when the parties themselves and the Board of Inland Revenue were perfectly conscious they were not. He had an instance of this before him. There was a publication called the Quarterly Statement of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Additional Curates in Populous Places. Now it was clear that this publication could not be a newspaper; yet he found Mr. Richard Clay, of Hornsey, in the county of Middle. sex, printer and proprietor of this Quarterly Statement, affirming that it was a newspaper, in order to obtain the postal privilege in question, and saying, "I do make this solemn declaration, conscientiously believing the same to be true." He certainly thought that if it were the intention of the Treasury to allow such publications as this to go through the post for 1d., persons wishing to avail themselves of the privilege should not be obliged to go through this most objectionable preliminary form of making a declaration amounting to something very like a falsehood. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself was, he believed, a member of this Additional Curate Employment Society, and was, therefore, to some extent a participator in the system of making loose declarations, and thereby, if not defrauding the Post Office, at least of lessening the charge which this publication would have to pay for transmission by post according to the laws of the land. He (Mr. Gibson) thought that, both on moral and on financial grounds, the subject was one well worthy of consideration on the part of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and of the Treasury. He knew a gentleman who refused to make such a declaration, which he knew to be false, and in justice to those who entertained conscientious scruples the Government ought to put an end to the anomaly. He wished to ask whether the hon. Gentleman would have any objection to lay the Treasury order on the subject on the table of the House?


said, it was scarcely correct to charge the Board of Inland Revenue with calling upon these persons to make a false declaration. It was true that the Treasury, upon the representation of the Post Office, had so far relaxed the duty in regard to postage of newspapers as to allow certain pamphlets, not exceeding a specified weight, if duly stamped as newspapers at the Board of Inland Revenue, to pass free through the Post Office. But the Board of Inland Revenue had nothing whatever to do in requiring a false declaration on the subject. The Board was bound to take the declaration of any person who came before it, and said, "I am going to publish a newspaper," and who asked, therefore, that newspaper stamps should be attached to a portion of his impression. It was not for the Board to say whether the publication was a newspaper or not; they accepted the declaration made to them, and allowed the stamp to be affixed. It was quite true that a variety of publications had of late years been issued and sent through the post under the character of newspapers, and nothing was more common than for merchants in sending their circulars abroad to call them newspapers. Undoubtedly such. publications contained what those persons thought they were entitled to call news, such as accounts of the state of the markets and of the prices of goods; but when these gentlemen went to Somerset House, all that the Commissioners of Inland Revenue had to do was to see that when they granted the privilege in question the declaration required by law should be made. The proprietor or printer declared the publication to be a newspaper, and that he conscientiously believed all he had stated to be true; and it was not for the Board of Inland Revenue to doubt a man's word and to declare he had been guilty of a misstatement. He could have no objection to place the House in possession of either the original Treasury order or the subsequent correspondence which had taken place between the Treasury and the Post Office on the subject.


thought the hon. Gentleman had not been very successful in apologising for the Board of Inland Revenue, for the Board could not but see that the publication in question was not a newspaper, as it was a quarterly publication, which, even according to the ill-defined state of the law as it at present stood, was sufficient to exclude it from that category. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was both a subscriber to this society and a member of the committee; both the Archbishops were members, and the paper was published under their auspices. He wanted to know why the Board of Inland Revenue should treat different persons in a different manner. In the case of this Society the stamp was affixed, under the pretext of its being a newspaper, to those copies of the publication that were sent to the country, while those copies that were distributed from hand to hand in town were published without a stamp. But it might be that in the very next street a person might come forward to make the same declaration with respect to his publication, when the Board would insist upon every individual copy being stamped. Therefore, though there was but one law, yet there were two applications of that law; and he was sure that the hon. Member for Westbury (Mr. Wilson) would be the first to admit that in all matters of taxation it was essential that that taxation should be levied with justice and equality upon all, and that the Board of Inland Revenue ought not to be allowed to constitute itself a kind of censorship upon the press, allowing a portion of one publication only to be stamped, and insisting upon the stamping of every other copy in the case of the other. The hon. Member said, that the Board of Inland Revenue had nothing to do but to receive the declaration of the proprietor or publisher, and that they took that at once as valid and true. But if a person brought a pair of boots to the Inland Revenue Office, and proposed to make the usual declaration in order that they might pass through the Post Office, he took it for granted that the officials would then open their eyes and discover that they were not a newspaper. He would take this opportunity of asking the Attorney General, whom he now saw in his place, what conclusion had been come to in the case of the Penny Commercial Journal, published by Mr. Shard, in Dublin, which had been prosecuted by the Government, and in which the proprietor of the paper had obtained a verdict in his favour. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, a short time ago, stated that in his opinion that verdict was a bad one, but that the question of a new trial had been referred to the consideration of the Attorney General. As it was desirable the decision of the hon. and learned Gentleman should be known, he begged now to ask him what opinion he had formed upon the case?


said, he would be happy on this as on every other occasion to give an explicit answer to his hon. Friend, but the matter had not come under his notice. It was an Irish prosecution, conducted by the Attorney General for Ireland, and he was not competent, therefore, to give any opinion on the subject.


said, the Chancellor of the Exchequer expressly stated that the matter had been referred to the English Attorney General.

The House then went into Committee of