HC Deb 16 May 1854 vol 133 cc419-60

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to the present unsatisfactory state of the law affecting the press, and to move the Resolution of which he had given notice. He regretted to have to submit this Motion in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and he would not have done so if the question were a financial one, but as the terms of his notice and the arguments by which he should support it referred entirely to the legal point, he did not think he was bound to postpone it because the finance Minister was not present. The House would recollect that he had brought a similar Motion before Parliament in previous Sessions, and he much regretted that he should be compelled to bring it forward again, but he conceived that until he succeeded in the object it had in view, he was not released from the duty imposed upon him as the Chairman of the Newspaper Stamp Committee, namely, to bring the anomalies of the law under the attention of Parliament, and endeavour to seek redress. The Report of that Committee contained this passage— The Committee have resolved that the attention of the House ought to be immediately called to the objections and abuses incident to the present newspaper stamp law, arising from the difficulty of determining and defining the meaning of the term news; the inequalities that exist in the application of the Newspaper Stamp Act, the anomalies and evasions thereby occasioned in the postal arrangements, the unfair competition to which the stamped newspapers are exposed with the unstamped, the limitations imposed by the law on the circulation of the best newspapers, and the impediments thrown in the way of the diffusion of useful knowledge regarding current and recent events among the poorer classes. It might be contended that he was proposing an abstract Resolution, and that he ought not to ask Members of Parliament to pledge themselves to a Resolution which appeared to have no immediate or practical bearing on legislation at the present time; but if bon. Gentlemen would look at the terms of his Motion, they would see that it was by no means abstract. It asserted two facts—first, that the laws with regard to the periodical press and newspaper stamp were ill defined, and that the Ex- ecutive did not enforce those laws equally and impartially. The assertion of these two facts by a Resolution of the House of Commons would be tantamount to a declaration of the opinion of the House, that the Government ought to deal with the question, and bring in a measure to define the law, and to issue instructions to their officers to administer the law with impartiality. If it were said that he ought himself to have introduced a Bill to define the law, his answer would be that the Government had so many more facilities for preparing and prosecuting any legislative measure than he had, in the assistance of the law officers of the Crown, and the command of the time of the House—so many more chances of carrying their measures, that he thought it much better to defer to their superior advantages, and leave it to them to bring in a Bill on the subject. He felt he should be justified in bringing the matter forward, even if he asked for the repeal of the stamp, on financial grounds, for the Ministers themselves in their speeches of last Session, gave it as their opinion, that in a financial point of view the newspaper stamp question was insignificant, and was unimportant in reference to other considerations connected with it. If, therefore, he were to point out that by the substitution of a simple postage charge upon all printed papers passing through the post, a great portion of the amount that would be lost by the repeal of the stamp would be regained, he might reasonably suppose that any apprehension that might be felt at the present time in dealing with the question as a matter of revenue would be silenced. But he had thought it better, on the whole, to dismiss the financial question altogether, and merely to deal with the question of the unsatisfactory state of the law, and the unequal execution of that law. He knew he might have been justified in taking higher ground. He might have argued that at the present day, when education was a matter of such deep public interest, a cheap press and a free press, and by its means the dissemination of useful knowledge amongst all classes, would be beneficial as a matter of public policy. In that argument he might have expected considerable support, and might have quoted in favour of it the Report of Mr. Horace Mann, as to the existing educational provision in England and Wales, in which it was stated— Much is undoubtedly doing now in providing cheap literature, but a vast deal more remains to be accomplished, especially in the department of cheap newspapers, an abundance of which would do more to assist education than several millions of money spent in elementary schools, without some such inducement for the people to attend them. He preferred, however, to submit his Motion in a form in which he might hope for at least some concurrence of opinion. He must admit that the question had been fairly met hitherto by all parties, Conservatives and Liberals; it had been viewed by all, not as a party question, but as one of general public interest, and it was in that spirit be now submitted it to the House. He had had the honour of accompanying a deputation to Lord Derby when that noble Lord was at the head of the Government, and to submit to his consideration the anomalies of the present state of the newspaper laws and of the newspaper stamp law. The deputation requested Lord Derby to abolish the stamp law. Lord Derby, in reply, said—"He had listened with great attention to all that had been said by the deputation, but it was not to be expected that he could enter at once into the details of a question so complicated and so mixed up with financial and social considerations. There was one point, however, in which he was quite clear, namely, that the law upon the subject as it stood was not in a satisfactory position. Whatever the law was it ought to be simple, and it ought to be enforced; that his Government had shown no indisposition to promote the dissemination of knowledge, and he thought it of great importance that the matter should be immediately attended to." It was precisely the point which Lord Derby then indicated, that he (Mr. M. Gibson) now submitted for the approval of the House, namely, that the state of the law was unsatisfactory, and ought to be made simple, and to be equally enforced. That was all he at present asked the House to approve, and he begged earnestly of hon. Members not to consider his opinion on other branches of the question, or any theories with regard to cheap newspapers, but to look to the words of his Resolution, and say whether there was anything in it to which a reasonable man could object. Having said thus much, he would proceed to demonstrate, first, that the law was ill-defined, and secondly, that it was not equally enforced. He would now proceed to demonstrate—first, that the law was ill-defined; and secondly, that it was not equally enforced. It would be in the recollection of the House that some time since a prosecution was instituted against the publishers of one of Mr. Charles Dickens's works, called the Household Narrative of Current Events. That prosecution was instituted by the Government of the day, not so much for the purpose, as it was said, of inflicting a penalty on Mr. Dickens's publishers, as for the purpose of ascertaining the law, and whether it was in the power of the Government to put down such publications as those which Mr. Dickens was issuing from the press; in fact, to clear up a doubtful point of law. He (Mr. M. Gibson) then said, that if the law was doubtful, bring in a Bill to settle it, and let the world know what they may do and what they may not do. That advice was not taken, and a prosecution was instituted in the Court of Exchequer against the publishers of Mr. Dickens's Household Narrative; and the Judges, by a majority of three to one, decided against the Government, and were of opinion that it was not a newspaper in the eye of the law. He again urged that the Government should legislate on the point, and save many individuals from being persecuted in the Court of Exchequer; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer said no, that the Judges were wrong and the Board of Inland Revenue right, and that the Government would not acquiesce in the decision of the Court of Exchequer, but would proceed to enforce their own view of the law. This went on for a certain time; the Government of Lord Derby then came in, and it was announced that the point would be settled by legislation, and a Bill was promised, which, in fact, was brought in by the present Government, to exempt the publishers of Mr. Dickens's work from the operation of the stamp duty, and Messrs. Bradbury and Evans were released from the persecution of the Board of Inland Revenue. So that the step which he (Mr. M. Gibson) and those who thought with him had advised to be taken at first was obliged to be taken at last. But what was the position of the law now? That Bill exempted those publications from the stamp duty and it defined what was to be considered news and what was a newspaper. But another point, indeed several points of law had arisen, springing out of that Bill, and also out of the state of the law as it previously existed. The same course was pursued; and instead of bringing in a Bill to define the law, a prosecution was commenced against the Penny Dublin Commercial Journal, the proprietor of which was a Mr. Shaw. The object was, according to the avowal of the counsel for the Crown, the same as that in the case of Mr. Dickens, not to enforce a penalty, but to try a right and to ascertain a point of law. The counsel for the defence, the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside), in the Dublin Court of Exchequer, eloquently denounced the system of singling out individuals as victims by instituting these prosecutions, merely to try a point of law, and he appealed to the jury against the injustice of putting parties to large expenses, merely to ascertain what was the law, when it was the duty of Government with the assistance of the law officers of the Crown to come forward with a Bill, making the law so clear that the Queen's subjects might know what to do, and what to abstain from. In the case of the Dublin Commercial Journal the Government was defeated again, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he was asked what he would then do, said, as he had said in Mr. Dickens's case, that he did not acquiesce in the verdict of the Court of Exchequer, and that he would go on prosecuting Mr. Shaw, the proprietor of the Dublin Commercial Journal, until he could get some court of law or jury to come into his views. He (Mr. M. Gibson) said it was a monstrous injustice thus to prosecute individuals, and he would appeal to the House whether, as a Member of Parliament, he had not a right to call on the Executive to bring forward a Bill to make the law clear and intelligible. There was a point of law connected with the case of the Dublin Commercial Journal which was curious. The question was, whether a paper consisting for the most part of literary matter, and only containing scraps of news, was in point of law a newspaper; and the defendant pleaded, firstly, that if the paper did contain news, it only contained a little news; secondly, that it did not contain political news; and thirdly, that there was no proof that the news it contained was true; for it had been contended that if what was stated as fact was only fiction, it was not news, and the paper was not liable to the stamp duty. On this point, Mr. Baron Parke, whose authority would not be disputed, said that a little news was not enough to make a paper a newspaper under the words of the Act of Parliament, which were meant to apply to a paper whose main object was to give a record of current events, and that the casual mention of a scrap or two of news did not make it a newspaper. That was one of the points the Court of Exchequer in Dublin had to decide. But what a point it was, for the question arose as to what was a little news, what fraction of a paper occupied made the matter news. If it had been decided that you might have a little news, that did not improve the clearness of the law, and it was still difficult to show what proportion of a paper so occupied made it a newspaper. He should be sorry to misrepresent the learned Judge, and he would, therefore, read Mr. Baron Parke's opinion. Speaking of another publication he said in effect that— He was clearly of opinion that the paper did not come within the definition of the newspaper under the Act of Parliament. The Act did not specify the publication of news simply, but public news of events, and intelligence, and it was not enough to satisfy the Act if there was a single article of news in a paper, and the rest of it was filled with discussions on books, the fine arts, or scientific subjects. That doctrine, that a little news was legal and a great deal illegal, was still a matter of doubt, and the counsel for the Crown in the Court of Exchequer in Dublin declared that it decided the law with reference to a numerous class of publications. So that it not only affected Mr. Shaw and the Dublin Commercial Journal, but it hung up numerous publications of the same class in England and Ireland. The next ground taken with reference to the Dublin Commercial Journal was, that it was not political, and it was endeavoured to be shown, by some sort of innuendo, that the object of the Legislature in passing the Stamp Acts was not revenue. The learned counsel for the Crown said— Now, gentlemen of the jury, I will bring before your notice what appears to me to be the question before you. First, let me say one or two words on the general policy of stamping papers such as these. You are aware, no matter what may be said of the liberty of the press, a great deal may also be said of its licentiousness, and the Government of the country, to keep a proper control over the public press, and to keep within its own power a proprietor of a paper, who departing from liberty, may indulge in licentiousness, has provided a machinery by which every proprietor of a paper is bound to restrictions and bound to pay a certain stamp to protect the public. He (Mr. M. Gibson) contended, with great deference, that this was bad law, for he defied the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General to produce any Act of Parlia- ment which declared that the stamp duty was imposed on licentiousness. The stamp duty was imposed on the record of facts, and you might publish licentiousness, blasphemy, sedition, and obscenity without a stamp, and it was always the fear of the circulation which caused the imposition of the stamp duty, and the Legislature never imposed a stamp duty on anything but records of facts, and he denied that the counsel in question, when he was talking about liberty and licentiousness, was correctly stating the law. This occurred with reference not to a licentious paper, but a harmless moral publication, in which no one pretended that a word of licence was to be found. He had looked at the particular copy which was the subject of the prosecution, to see if there was any ground for this attempt to prejudice the jury against the Dublin Commercial Journal by talking about licentiousness, and he found that it really contained nothing more than some good-natured half-complimentary remarks upon Her Majesty's present Ministers. In speaking of the present Government it said— With all this undoubted personal ability, I have little hope that the new Cabinet will work well. It wants a principle, and it is too rich in individual intellect. That was the only bit of licentiousness he could find in that journal. He thought the spirit displayed in that prosecution seemed like an attempt to set aside the law which passed last Session. That was, however, met by Chief Baron Pennefather, the presiding Judge on that occasion. There was something of refinement in the Act of last Session, by which the stamp was repealed on papers containing commentaries on news, but not repealed on papers containing news itself. It required an intellect of the refining power attributed to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer to enable a Bill to be drawn making a distinction between commentaries on facts and facts themselves. Observations on facts were allowed to go free of duty, but if you gave the facts themselves, you were liable to a penalty. He would appeal to the Attorney General if he was not correct, and to show that he was correct, he would quote what was said by Chief Baron Pennefather in the case of the Dublin Commercial Journal. The learned Judge, in his charge to the jury, said— One paragraph is contained in the paper on which reliance has been placed on both sides. It is the 'Letter from London.' Now, this contained a good deal of observation on public occurrences. It consisted of matters of considerable public interest, a good deal of observation and discussion on what is represented as political, change of Government, &c. The fact of its containing observation and discussion, I must tell you, in point of law does not constitute that portion anything that would make the publication a newspaper.' The mere fact of there being observations and discussions was at one time a test on which a publication was to be determined whether it was a newspaper or not, but that test no longer exists in point of law. You will consider with respect to that portion of the paper, whether that letter conveys information of a fact of a public nature, whether it contains 'public news, intelligence, or occurrences.' So far as it contains observations and discussions, you will exclude it from your consideration as a test, but so far as it convoys intelligence of facts, you will give it such weight as you think it deserves. The Committee of which he (Mr. M. Gibson) was Chairman, reported that nothing was so undesirable as the drawing of a distinction between observations on facts and facts themselves, and the difficulties were pointed out which would arise from that course being pursued, and it was stated that there would be a, complete harvest of cases in the Exchequer. Here was one of them, in which the counsel brought forward the point of observations on facts being liable to a stamp, but the Judge decided that the Chancellor of the Exchequer last Session had repealed the stamp duty on observations on facts, but left it on the record of the facts themselves. The law, therefore, was in this position, if he (Mr. M. Gibson) published a paper in which Admiral Hondas was made to express his regret at being compelled to make an attack on Odessa, he would be liable to a penalty of 201. if it was published without a stamp; but if he published a violent commentary on the conduct of Admiral Dundas in the affair at Odessa, he could publish it free of duty, because he was not recording a fact. He said, that if it was considered to be consistent with public policy to allow observations on facts to circulate without any security being given to the State, you should also allow the facts themselves to circulate as freely, so that a knowledge of the facts as they really were might tend to correct erroneous theories, which might otherwise be founded on an absence of knowledge Of the real facts of a case. He had shown, he thought, in the case of the Dublin Penny Commercial Journal, sufficient to induce hon. Members, if they did nothing else, to vote with him that the law required to be better defined and made more intelligible. He had been found fault with for putting the word "early" in his Resolution—"that the subject demanded the 'early' consideration of Parliament"—he was told that he ought to have used the word "immediate," and he begged leave most sincerely to tell the Government that they were not mere theoretical grievances that he brought to their notice, and that there were many persons of humble means in various parts of the country interested practically in the settlement of this question, and he hoped the Government would not charge him with conjuring up those which were not real practical grievances, for he had shown that such a case had been prosecuted in the Court of Exchequer in Dublin. He would now take the liberty of mentioning another case of more recent origin with reference to the present uncertain state of the law. There had been a discovery made lately that musical announcements came under the head of news. This was a view of the case which had never been taken before. Mr. Novello, the publisher of a paper called the Musical Times, received a communication from the Board of Inland Revenue dated 8th May, 1854, thus making it clear that it was a recent discovery, which was as follows— Inland Revenue, London, May 8, 1854. "Sir,—I am directed by the Commissioners of this Board to communicate with you respecting a paper entitled the Musical Times, printed and published by you, some unstamped copies of which have been brought under their observation. As this paper contains news, as well as principally advertisements, and is published at intervals of not less than twenty-six days, it is a newspaper, liable to stamp duty, and for every copy printed upon unstamped paper a penalty has been incurred. I shall be happy to submit to the Board any explanation you may think proper to offer upon the subject. I am, Sir, your obedient servant, J. TIMM, Solicitor of Inland Revenue. To this Mr. Novello replied as follows— London, 69, Dean Street, Soho, May 11, 1854. "Sir,—I have to acknowledge your letter of May 8. I have delivered to the Stamp Office stamped and unstamped copies of every number of the Musical Times for the last ten years (as compelled by law to do), and each of these copies has been thoroughly examined by your officers, to ascertain how much of it was liable to duty for advertisements, so long as that impost was chargeable; and I suppose that, both before and since, it has been examined to see that it contained no blasphemous and seditious libel, as I am compelled still to deliver a copy for the latter purpose. During these ten years the news contained in the paper has always been of precisely the same kind, and your office (as I have shown) was thoroughly acquainted with its nature, and, as no objection has been made, I must suppose that the Musical Times has, during ten years, been published with the sanction of your office. I should be glad, therefore, to be favoured by your pointing out what particular passage of news you now consider as making the paper liable to be all printed upon stamps. The Musical Times has always consisted 'principally' of a piece of music, for which the same price is paid, whether printed alone, or whether accompanied by the matter of temporary interest which is given with it only when first published. The music being that for which the money is paid in all instances, you will perceive that, supposing sixteen or more pages of advertisements to be given with the music, the Musical Times would still consist 'principally' of the music, which is what people pay for. I am obliged by your offer to submit my representation to the Board, and I feel all the inconvenience of their position, in having to administer a law which the Judges are unable to define, and which no Government has yet had either the grace to repeal or the courage equally to enforce. I am not without hope that the present Government will adopt the graceful course and repeal these bad laws; but if, in the meantime, they are determined to make the existing laws respected, they would be more likely to succeed by prosecuting any of the other fifty or sixty papers placed in precisely the same position as the Musical Times, because ill-natured people will be apt to think the selection more due to its being the property of the Treasurer of the Active Association for the Repeal of all the Taxes on Knowledge, rather than to any peculiarity in the contents of the Musical Times, requiring the enforcement of the law to begin with that paper.—I am, Sir, your obedient servant, ALFRED NOVELLO. To J. Timm, Esq., Solicitor of Inland Revenue. It was his firm belief that the Musical Times was no newspaper at all, and that opinion was founded on the practical and the written opinion of the Board of Inland Revenue. He would read the opinion of Mr. Timm, the Solicitor to the Board of Inland Revenue, on that point. Messrs. Robinson and Crofton, of Silver Street, Wakefield, in January, 1851, wrote to Mr. Timm, to the effect— that they were anxious not to infringe the Stamp Act, and inquiring whether in an unstamped publication of theirs they might insert such things as markets, births, deaths, and marriages, and observations on dramatic performances, concerts, and balls in Wakefield, without incurring liability. To this they received the following answer— Inland Revenue, March 1, 1851. Gentlemen,—In answer to your letter of the 25th ultimo, I beg to say that any account of the markets may be lawfully published in an unstamped paper. No notice is taken of accounts of dramatic performances and such like, but any other matter published in unstamped papers will not he overlooked. I am, &c. J. TIMM. Messrs. Robinson and Crofton, Silver Street, Wakefield. It was thought that the words "such like" included balls and concerts, and if no notice was taken of accounts of them at Wakefield, why should they be subjected to a penalty in the Musical Times? Where were persons to make inquiries if they made applications on these points to the officers of the Crown, and got answers on which they acted, and yet were made liable to penalties? This arose not from any fault of the Board of Inland Revenue, but from your maintaining a defective system, which tended to bring the executive officers into bad repute, and cast undeserved odium on them. He believed that Mr. John Wood, the Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue, was always desirous of doing justice and of acting with leniency; but neither Mr. John Wood, or Mr. Timm, or Mr. Keogh, could administer such an unintelligible system; and if it were changed, not only would it relieve many persons, but would relieve the Government's own officers from the odium of appearing to minister the law with unfairness and partiality. There were these two cases he had mentioned still pending, one in Dublin, in order to ascertain whether a little news constituted a newspaper, and also what was a newspaper; and the other question, with regard to musical announcements, and there were other cases also involved in the same uncertainty. He thought that the instances which he adduced had fully made out a case for legislation, and that there ought to be a Bill brought in without loss of time for the purpose of clearly defining the law. With regard to the other head of his Resolution, namely, that the law was unequally enforced, he had abundant evidence to prove it. The practice had been not to enforce the law against the strong, not against powerful London publishers, but to press with undue severity on the humble proprietors of small papers in provincial towns. There was one law for London and another for the country, and he would give an immediate illustration of it, from the evidence of the Board of Inland Revenue itself, and their own opinions. He would read a correspondence which had taken place between the proprietor of the Racing Times and the Board of Inland Revenue. Mr. Timm wrote on the 13th of September, 1851, to the proprietors of the Racing Times, stating that— Several numbers of the Racing Times had been recently published without being stamped, and he begged to call for such an explanation as would show why a prosecution should not be instituted; and as the case admitted of no delay whatever, he begged immediate attention to it. To this an answer was returned by Mr. John Thompson to the effect that— He begged to inform Mr. Timm that he was in error with regard to the Racing Times being a newspaper, as it was strictly a publication which had been described by his officers as a class publication, like the Athenœum, the Law Times, the Builder, the Medical Gazette, and others, which were not liable to the stamp duty. He would only add that the Racing Times had been published unstamped since its first publication; that the advertisement duty had been duly paid, and that on the dictum of the Board of Inland Revenue itself, it was a publication not within the Stamp Act. To this Mr. Timm replied— That no person could doubt that the Racing Times was a newspaper liable to the stamp duty, and if its publication unstamped was persisted in, the law would be enforced against every person selling it. The following reply was sent to that letter— Racing Times Office, 291, Strand, September 20. Sir—I have not acted without high legal advice in the matter of the publication of the Racing Times, and therefore I have only to inform you that I am perfectly prepared to support my right in a court of law; and when you require it I will furnish you with the name of my solicitor, who on my behalf will accept notice of any proceedings you may think proper to institute, and take the necessary steps in defence thereof—I am, &c. JOHN THOMPSON. J. Timm, Esq. Here Mr. Timm said that there was no doubt that the Racing Times was liable to the duty, and that the case admitted of no delay, but the moment Mr. Thompson suggested that he would instruct his solicitor to appear to any proceedings, Mr. Timm disappeared from the field, and was heard of no more. Mr. John Thompson lived in London, and his case was the same as that of the Athenœum, the Medical Gazette, the Builder, the Law Times, and a host of others, and be was backed by strong publishers. But when the Government had to deal with a penny paper like the Potteries Free Press, printed in a provincial town, and looked upon with contempt probably by the publishers of London newspapers, then Mr. Timm had the publisher brought to the police office and fined 20l and afterwards he took him to the Exchequer, where there was another decision against him, though he would do Government the justice to say that they did not take the penalties, their consciences, he supposed, not letting them. He gave them credit for this latter part of their course. He should not like to be in the position of the Attorney General of a Government which had made such professions in favour of the spread of knowledge and education, and who had to appear against these publishers with a view to put down their publications, and to render them liable to penalties. But was not this a system of injustice in which Parliament ought to interfere? Persons had applied to their legal advisers to know what they ought to do in order to have a fair and impartial administration of the law, and their legal advisers had told them that there was no course open to them but an appeal to the House of Commons. Well, but if there were inequalities in regard to prosecutions for the stamps, what should they say of the way in which the security system was administered in this country? The 60 Geo. III. c. 9, one of the celebrated Six Acts, was passed against the small political publications which in those days were supposed to be dangerous to the Constitution and to the religion of the country. The preamble recited that "Whereas it is expedient to restrain small publications now issuing from the press in great numbers, be it enacted" so and so. Then it provided that certain securities should be taken against all such publications, namely, publications that contained facts and occurrences, or observations on facts and occurrences, and also that contained any comments on matters of Church and State. That was the law. It had no reference to periodical papers. Carry out that law, and no man in this country was at liberty to publish a pamphlet under the price of 6d., containing less than 714 square inches in size without having entered into securities against blasphemy and sedition. And how was it carried out? Would it be believed, that it was not enforced against the parties in reference to whom it was first enacted? The writers of small political pamphlets were not interfered with; they gave no security; and the only parties that it was enforced against were those who happened to take out newspaper stamps for postage purposes, or the writers of some few casual harmless publications. To give them an idea how this law was administered, he held in his hand a publication called the Political Examiner, price 1d., a weekly democratic journal, with a motto from the works of the right hon. Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Macaulay)— If men are to wait for liberty till they become wise and good in slavery, they may indeed wait for ever. Now, this was exactly the kind of publication that it was intended should give security, but nothing of the kind was ever asked for. The English Republic was another periodical of a similar description which found no securities. Here, however, was a publication which actually did find securities for 400l. that it would publish nothing seditious or blasphemous, and what did the House suppose was its heading? Outline of a Lesson for Girls on the Ingredients of a Plumpudding. He should scarcely have thought that there was anything very seditious in the ingredients of a plumpudding. He very much doubted whether the Statute applied to such a publication as that he had last described, and yet this was the mode in which this system was carried out. He was against a security system altogether. He did not think they ought to assume that a printer was necessarily about to print a blasphemous publication. But the question he put was, were those against whom this law was intended to operate to escape giving security, and were they to enforce it against those whom it was never intended the law should apply to? He remembered a pamphlet containing an admirable speech on the present state of the Colonies, by his right hon. Friend the First Commissioner of Works, from which he derived great information, but as it was published at a less price than 6d., and contained less than 714 square inches, the right hon. Gentleman was liable to be prosecuted by the Attorney General for publishing it unless he had given securities against blasphemy and sedition. If, owing to its price, that case was not quite in point, there was another which certainly was. The noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell) had written a celebrated letter to the Bishop of Durham. That letter had been published by Mr. Westerton, and sold at Knightsbridge for 5s. a-thousand, so that its price was undoubtedly less than 6d., and its size was undoubtedly less than 714 square inches. There could be no doubt, then, that Mr. Westerton was liable at this time, if the Attorney General did his duty, for having published a paper commenting upon Church and State without having given securities. These cases showed the absurd position in which the law stood; and he respectfully appealed to the Attorney General to signalise his administration of the affairs of his office by advising the Government not to allow a day to pass without taking into consideration this foolish and anomalous state of things. The state of war was not a reason for neglecting it. He could not live upon war. He was interested, no doubt, in all the accounts, but he confessed it was becoming to him somewhat tedious already. He hoped Government did not mean them to understand that they were to subsist entirely upon the war. They must gather laurels in the field of peace as well as in the field of war, if they meant to retain the confidence of the constituencies of this country. He very much doubted if when they went to another general election and all the supporters of the Government had to say was, that they had been so occupied in supporting the integrity and independence of the Sublime Porte that they had been unable to attend to domestic affairs—he doubted whether the constituent body, who did not reason so nicely on the balance of power and so forth, would he satisfied with that. He hoped Government would enable their supporters to say that they had at least endeavoured to remedy the anomalies and the evils which he had mentioned, and that they would have some regard also for the cause of education which would be best promoted by an unrestricted and a good press, which could only be obtained by dealing with these important matters, and making the press free of all fiscal restrictions, and from all control, except that of a court of law for libel. Before he took his leave of this security system, let him mention one more case. He called the attention of his agricultural friends to a publication which was obliged to give security, he believed illegally. It had a very ominous name certainly. This was its title:—Important to AgriculturistsFirst subscription list now opened for improved corn-rick stands. The publisher of this harmless statement was obliged to find security, whilst a paper called the English Republican, written with great ability, and which discussed week by week the advantages of republicanism as against monarchical government, the very publication which it was intended should give security, the Board of Inland Revenue allowed to pass without notice. Such a monstrous anomaly as this ought not to be continued. These were the grounds on which he had taken the liberty of asking the House to agree to the proposition that the law was ill-defined and was unequally enforced. He would tell hon. Gentlemen opposite, whatever might be their opinions on these matters, that Lord Derby, when they were pressed upon him, had no doubt on them, and did not seem in the slightest degree to question the possibility of making the law equal, and was also strongly impressed with the injustice of allowing it to remain in its present state. Another point connected with it appeared in the correspondence which was laid on the table of the House yesterday, and which showed what an amount of petty persecution was now going on, the Board of Inland Revenue writing to publishers telling them that they were breaking the law, but not telling them what it was they had done. What a cruel system this was. The consequence was, that their cheap literature must necessarily fall into the hands of men of comparatively not such high station and respectability, and who did not care for violating these laws. Letters of this kind tended more than prosecutions to frighten out of existence small publications, and to deter men of capital and respectability from supporting the cheap literature of the country. He wanted to see a cheap press, but he also wanted to see a good press. He did not want to give a monopoly of the cheap press to those who would violate the law. On the contrary, he wished to see a cheap press in the hands of men of good moral character, of respectability, and of capital; and it was his sincere and conscientious belief that that policy was calculated to promote the best interests of this country, and would have more effect in educating the great mass of the people than any Education Bill that they could pass through Parliament. A strange point had been started lately by the Board of Inland Revenue, that persons might not publish monthly except at the beginning of the month. No man might record a fact monthly except at the beginning of the month, or two days before or two days after it. No doubt that was intended by the 60 Geo. III. c. 9; but subsequent Acts of Parliament had been passed which were supposed by good lawyers to have repealed this provision. He knew the Attorney General would tell him that this was done in order to prevent a person publishing every week monthly publications under different names to evade the stamp. But the answer was defective, because it did not apply to a case of a paper consisting principally of advertisements, which was required to be stamped. What they seemed to be afraid of was not so much the defrauding of the revenue as the permitting papers to be published without restrictions. He trusted the Attorney General would take this into consideration. Restricting these publications to five consecutive days in the month was a great inconvenience, and if that was the law, which he very much doubted, he asked that it might be repealed. It would affect no revenue, and he did not think this provision of the Act was intended to prevent such publications coming into competition with weekly newspapers. He had now trespassed sufficiently on the time of the House, considering the indulgence he had met with on former occasions. He most emphatically asked hon. Gentlemen not to direct their attention to any theories of his own, or of any other Member, with respect to this question, but simply to support a Resolution which merely involved a question of making the law clear, and enforcing it with justice and equality. The Motion was one to which every sensible man, and every one who had the interest of his country at heart, might fairly, and without reference to party considerations, give in his adhesion.


in seconding the Resolution, said that, after the able and lucid statement just made by his right hon. Friend, it was unnecessary for him to detain the House by entering into the legal view of the question. He merely wished to bear his testimony to the facts which had been brought forward, and to state, from his own knowledge, that the large manufacturing towns were inundated with a class of low, immoral publications, which the people would read. By the present state of the law, they were precluded from reading that which was interesting and useful, and were compelled to read a deal of trash and unwholesome matter, which the repeal of the present laws would, more than anything else, tend to put an end to.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That it is the opinion of this House, that the Laws in reference to the Periodical Press and Newspaper Stamp are ill-defined and unequally enforced; and it appears to this House that the subject demands the early consideration of Parliament.


said, he did not rise with the intention of quarrelling much with the Resolution of the right hon. Member for Manchester, for he was disposed to think that the law on the subject of the periodical press required revising and amending. He was also prepared to admit that up to the present time the law had been unequally enforced; but to this he could give some explanation and qualification, for he did not wish the House to run away with the notion that the law had been arbitrarily enforced, for it had not been so. The portion of the address of the hon. Member with which he was most disposed to quarrel was the unnecessary bitterness with which he had commented on the conduct of the Stamp Office officials. The principle on which the law had been administered with regard to these publications was, that wherever a periodical publication had confined itself to any single class of subjects, there the law had not interfered. He believed this principle was originally introduced in the case of the Athenœum, for it was considered that in the case of publications not being at all devoted to political subjects, yet which conveyed an amount of amusement and instruction which would be beneficial, these publications, wanting the more exciting political topics, would be less likely to obtain the favour of the public, and were those to which the Legislature might extend some indulgence and favour. This began with publications of a literary or philosophical character, and was gradually extended; for when the principle of exemption was introduced, it was felt to be no more than fairness and justice that the principle should be applied to all those publications which fell within it. The consequence of this has been, that so many of these class publications are now issued, that many and serious complaints have been made against these exemptions by those who pay the duty, so that he could promise the right hon. Member he would now obtain that which he contended for, and the law should be equally enforced against the whole of those publications in. fringing the law. It was rather odd that one who, like the right hon. Member for Manchester, had so long and eloquently contended for the repeal of the duties, should now clamour for the inflexible and uniform enforcement of the law. He thought the principle on which the right hon. Gentleman did this might be surmised. The right hon. Gentleman conceived that the greater the number of the periodicals subjected to this tax, the greater would be the outcry against them, and the greater the chances of their repeal. He (the Attorney General) did not quarrel with this; but it should be borne in mind, when complaints arose of the unequal enforcement of the law, and of the conduct of the officers of the Board of Inland Revenue, that prosecutions had arisen out of the grievous complaints made by parties paying the duties against those where exempted. He considered, as he had previously stated, that the law on this subject required additions and amendments, but he could not agree with the right hon. Member as to its imperfect state with regard to the case he had mentioned of the Dublin paper. In this case the law decided nothing—the Judge merely told the jury that the law was defined by the definition in the Act of Parliament, and asked the jury to find and determine as a question of fact whether that portion of the newspaper relied upon by the counsel for the Crown did contain public news, intelligence, or occurrences. In this case the question had to be decided by a jury, and the jury said it was not a periodical containing news, intelligence, or occurrences, and they gave it as their opinion that the paper did not come within the meaning of the Act. In such cases as these, when the question came to be whether the law was or was not infringed, there was no alternative but to bring them before a jury, by whose decision alone the point at issue could be settled. Now, he asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he was able to give a better definition of a newspaper than that which was laid down in the Act of Parliament? So long as they admitted the principle that a newspaper was to be taxed, some definition such as that must be adhered to. With reference to the tax, all he would say was, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was not present, and they could not fairly be asked to consider the repeal of so considerable an amount of the public revenue. In present circumstances such a proposition was out of the question. All they were now considering, therefore, was, whether the definition given by the law was a right definition or not; and again he asked whether they could give a better definition of a newspaper than that it was a publication containing "public news, intelligence, and occurrences?" He could not agree with the right hon. Gentleman in the views he had expressed on that point. At the same time he trusted the right hon. Gentleman would feel that he did not say this from any backwardness or obstinacy in accepting from him any advice that might be serviceable on this question. If his right hon. Friend could point out any mode by which the law might be amended, he would be most happy to avail himself of his suggestions. He admitted that there were parts of the law which might be amended; those relating to bonds and securities called for consideration, and he would be ready to give his best assistance towards making such alterations as might be deemed necessary. He could not, however, concur with the right hon. Gentleman in thinking that the law had been unequally and capriciously enforced; and when the right hon. Gentleman complained of their conduct in selecting an individual for prosecution, because he conducted an obscure paper in the provinces, while they did not venture to grapple with the London publishers, be must protest against that language, more especially as coming from a gentleman who himself insisted that the case in question should be brought to trial.


said, he must beg to explain. He objected to the case being taken before a police magistrate, and wished to have it heard, if it was to be tried at all, before the Judges of the Court of Exchequer.


said, he regretted that he had confounded the right hon. Gentleman with another person who certainly insisted that the case should be taken up and prosecuted by the Government. But even in that case of the Potteries Free Press, the object of the Government was simply to enforce the law, and not to inflict hardship upon an individual, and the best proof that such was their intention was to be found in the fact that they returned the penalties which were awarded to them by the Court. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman that certain portions of the law required amendment, and that the law ought to be uniformly enforced upon one general principle. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would be satisfied with the declaration which he had made, and which he would be ready to act upon, and that he would not think that he opposed his Motion in any hostile spirit when he took the liberty of moving the previous question.

Whereupon the Previous Question was proposed, "That that Question be now put."


said, he was glad to hear his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General state, that he was willing to consider the question of securities, and he trusted he would also consider that part of the law which subjected to the stamp those papers that consisted only of advertisements, because it was absurd to repeal the advertisement duty, and yet prevent the circulation of advertisements in unstamped papers. He looked upon the whole question as one that concerned the education of the people, and regretted that the war in which we were engaged should have intervened to perpetuate the present system. They had refused to entertain the question of national education—so intense was the odium theologicum throughout the country—and he was therefore the more anxious that the people should have the means of educating themselves by means of libraries, and museums, and the extensive circulation of a free press. They had thrown out the Bill for promoting a national system of education in Scotland; and if they thus refused national education on the one hand, and, on the other, prevented the people from enjoying the advantages of unstamped newspapers, he did not know what was to be the result. In America every man had his newspaper, and they had the best au- thority for saying that the state of political education gave the people there an immense superiority over the people of this country. It was possible even in India to establish a system of education, so that in this respect England was not only behind America, but positively behind her own Colonies. He hoped that, though his right hon. Friend might not succeed in the present instance, he would nevertheless continue to agitate this question. He rejoiced that the Attorney General had promised to alter the law with respect to bonds, and his great hope was, that hereafter the efforts of the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) would be completely successful.


said, he wished to know if it were the intention of the Attorney General to put an end to the present system of prosecutions? The object of his right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, was to show that the law was so uncertain that no Judge or Jury could avoid giving offence; but the hon. and learned Gentleman had not told them that this state of things was to cease. He wished to see the remaining portion of "the Six Acts" blotted out of the Statute-book. Instead of progressing with the rest of the world, and especially with America, with which we came most into competition, we seemed to be going back. We were keeping up laws that maintained the people in ignorance, intolerance, and vice, instead of allowing such a free circulation of intelligence as would check those evils. What would be thought of the man who would try to make an animal live on one kind of food only, and expect it to work with vigour and efficiency? The food of an Englishman was news, intelligence, and information; yet they stinted him of these. They complained of the conduct of large masses of the population, but if they prevented them by their laws from obtaining information and from educating themselves, the responsibility would rest upon their shoulders, and not upon those of the poor ignorant creatures who might violate the laws of the land. A great deal had been said about the intolerance of Turkey. There was no such law in Turkey as that now under the consideration of the House. He believed, indeed, that England stood next to Catholic Rome in its desire to stifle knowledge. A vast improvement had been effected in America through the instrumentality of a free press, and he ventured to say that the same result would follow the adoption of the same policy in this country. He would advise the Government, at a time when they were at a loss to know what to do with crime, and when their prisons were overflowing, to remove all restriction on the free circulation of intelligence. There could be no doubt that the present state of the law prevented the employment of capital in the production of cheap publications. He would call upon the Government, therefore, to repeal the present laws altogether, and leave the press open, resting assured that so long as a Government acted rightly they had no reason to be afraid of any class of newspapers whatever.


said, his hon. Friend who had last spoken seemed to have misapprehended the meaning of what fell from his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. He certainly understood his hon. and learned Friend to speak entirely in the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester had moved his Resolution. He understood that a distinct pledge was given that this subject would receive the most anxious attention of the Government, and that his hon. and learned Friend was desirous only of showing to the House the difficulties of attempting to define the law better than it was defined at present. This was a subject of that nature that it almost baffled the possibility of definition in terms that would ensure absolute certainty. The definition now used was not one of modern legislation, for it was the language of the 10th of Queen Anne, the precise words of that Statute having been introduced into the last Act passed on the subject. The words were, "public news, intelligence, or occurrences, which shall be dispersed or made public;" and it was impossible to use language more precise. The hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) had referred to what he called the anomaly of papers consisting wholly or principally of advertisements being treated as newspapers. He was possibly not aware of the fact that that was done at the instance and request of the parties who first started a paper of that description. There was a paper of that kind called the North British Advertiser, which had been in existence for a great number of years, and that paper being devoted exclusively to the purpose of advertisements an application was made by the proprietors that it should be admitted to the privilege of the stamp duty, in order that it might have the benefit of being transmitted through the Post Office. The operation of the present law, therefore, was considered to be beneficial, and not injurious, to papers consisting wholly or principally of advertisements. But the Resolution before the House was one which he trusted would not lead to any difference of opinion. At the same time he could not agree in the language of that Resolution, because it would imply the reproach that the law had not been equally enforced. He admitted that the law bad been unequally enforced; but it had been so, not from any design, caprice, or inconstancy of purpose on the part of those who were intrusted with its administration, but from a desire to enforce it according to its spirit, and not according to its letter. At a very early period in the history of the law, it was held by the authorities that it was desirable not to apply the letter of the law in the case of publications whose object was to answer the useful purpose of education, and not to be a chronicle of "public news, intelligence, or occurrences." That was a laudable view to take of the matter; but unfortunately, in the attempt to carry it out, it had become impossible to proceed upon any even or uniform principle, and it was only in that sense that he allowed that the law had been unequally enforced. It had been unequally enforced from a desire to abide by the spirit of the law, to observe the real object of the enactment, and to make it minister to useful purposes, and not from a wish to apply it according to its letter in such a manner as to render it injurious to laudable undertakings. But the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) knew perfectly well that a great number of publications had been started for the very purpose of endeavouring to show the impossibility of enforcing the law, and of turning it into contempt. It had, therefore, been found necessary to enforce the law in such cases, but the law had been so enforced without hardship to individuals, and it was evident that, unless they were prepared to say there should be no legislation on the subject of newspapers, it was impossible to avoid anomalies such as those which had been referred to during the course of the debate. He would repeat what had already been stated to the House, that this whole subject would receive the careful attention of the Government. The question of securities which had been referred to was not the only one deserving the attention of the Government. Some of the Acts of 1819 still remained unrepealed that ought in his opinion to be removed from the Statute-book, and an attempt ought to be made to bring the whole law into one uniform system. It would not be easy, however, to adopt a definition more clear and distinct than that which had been copied from the Act of Queen Anne and inserted in every Statute upon this subject from that time downwards. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman who had brought forward this Motion would be satisfied with the assurance that this subject would have the earliest attention of the law officers of the Crown, and he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would consent to act as an auxiliary to such officers in rendering the words of the Acts and the definition of the law upon the subject as clear as they possibly could be made.


said, he considered that the assurances of the law officers of the Crown, so far as they went upon this matter, were satisfactory. He could not, however, agree with the hon. and learned Attorney General that the law relating to it was either well understood or well defined; and, as a proof that it was not so, he would refer to the very voluminous correspondence which he held in his hand, and which the House was in possession of on this subject, and which certainly went to prove the very opposite of what the hon. and learned Gentleman had asserted. He had moved a short time since for certain returns connected with the newspapers and with the stamp duties, which had been refused to him on the grounds that there were no means of giving the information that he required; but he found now, from the evidence of Mr. Novello, that from the stamped and unstamped copies of the newspaper which were necessarily deposited, there could have been little or no difficulty to put him into possession of the data that he required from the production of such returns. Under these circumstances, he should renew his application in a different form, by the adoption of which he had little doubt of being more successful. With respect to the question immediately before the House, he felt that his right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson) had so well argued it that there was no necessity for him to go over the same ground; but, at the same time, he must say that he felt very much pleased at the pledge which the Motion of the right officers of the Crown. He wished to say a few words with regard to the postage of newspapers, the management and regulations of which he considered to be very in hon. Gentleman had extracted from the law adequate and annoying; and he was of opinion that if, in the estimation of Mr. Rowland Hill, 1d. on each paper was ample payment for the postage of the same, such penny ought to be paid. In the district in which he resided there were only two newspapers, and those journals could not be seen—he did not say by the agricultural labourers of the district, but even by the tenant farmers—unless they went to a public-house. Surely it was a bad position for a country to be in when its newspapers were so expensive that they could not be read by large masses of the people unless they went to the public-house, where they would necessarily be obliged to spend their money in drink and tobacco. He was one of those who believed that the rise and rapid circulation of cheap publications throughout the country would do much more to educate the people than all the national systems of education that ever were contemplated. He hoped that his right bon. Friend would carry his Motion to a division, as he should like the people of this country really to know who were or who were not honestly their friends in this matter.


said, he thought that every one must be pleased with the tone and temper in which the law officers of the Crown had treated this question. He had no faith, however, in their being able to come to any arrangement that would be satisfactory to the country. Although he was disposed to be as liberal as most Members with respect to these questions, nevertheless he could not agree with the doctrines which he had heard propounded with respect to their general effects upon education. He was one of those who had voted against the late scheme of the Government relative to education, and he should always continue to vote against such educational system, from the conviction that it was radically wrong. His notion in these matters was, "Hands off, and let the people educate themselves." He was quite certain that they would do much better without any interference of that House than with it. He could not agree with the hon. and learned Attorney General that when there was a time of war all lightening of taxation should necessarily be put a stop to; and in considering such an emergency, he thought that the advice given to him by an old friend when he first commenced business might be usefully followed, such advice being that "when difficulties increased our energies should increase also." He had followed and acted upon that advice, and could testify to the advantage of having done so. He would propose to Government that, in place of forcing restrictions which were complained of, it would be better that it should be made compulsory to put a stamp on all bankers' checks.


I am pleased, Sir, to find that the opinion of the law officers of the Crown on this question of the newspaper stamp is not so confident as on former occasions. They have been complimented by hon. Members on the tone and temper of their observations, and I certainly think that the tone of their observations is much more moderate than it has hitherto been. I am very glad to have the admissions by the hon. and learned Attorney General confirmed as they have been by his Colleague the Solicitor General; still I cannot conceal from myself that there is a very broad line between them and my right hon. Friend and Colleague (Mr. M. Gibson) who sits behind me. I doubt altogether whether their admissions are such that they ought to satisfy any one in this House who questions the propriety of the maintenance of the newspaper stamp as a tax on newspapers. If these hon. and learned Gentlemen do agree so entirely with my right hon. Friend, I cannot discover why they should have so strong an objection to the Resolution which he proposes to the House. The Resolution is one of a very innocent character, and I am rather disposed to blame my right hon. Friend for proposing a Resolution not so definite as the occasion required. The Resolution is this— That it is the opinion of this House that the Laws in reference to the Periodical Press and Newspaper Stamp are ill-defined and unequally enforced; and it appears to this House that the subject demands the early consideration of Parliament. And, if I do not mistake the language of the Attorney General, he thinks the laws are unequally enforced and the subject does demand the early consideration of Parliament, but that he does not agree that the laws are ill-defined; and that seems to be the difference between the Attorney General and my right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson). With regard to the unequal enforcement of the law, do not let it be supposed that my right hon. Friend insinuated in the smallest measure that the Board of Inland Revenue have been unfair and unequal—that they have selected a man in one street to put a stamp on Ids publication, and omitted to compel a man in another street to stamp a publication of a like character. That is not charged against the Board of Inland Revenue, but that the law is unequally enforced has been admitted by the Attorney General, and the admission goes to this—that it has arisen, not from unfairness on the part of the Board—which has never been alleged—but from the absolute necessity of the case; and I believe the Attorney General is convinced that no consideration of Parliament, no alteration of the law, no fresh directions to the Board, can by any possibility prevent this law being unequally enforced; because if any attempt were made, such as that which the Attorney General told us he is about to make, or the Board are about to make, that every paper that comes' within the law shall be taxed, I will undertake to say the law shall not last one Session of Parliament. That is precisely what we want. But if the Attorney General thinks otherwise, and that the law can be enforced, it does not seem to me at all a reason to withdraw a Resolution like this, to allow this question to remain without any opinion being expressed upon it to-night, and to be satisfied with the smooth phrases of the two distinguished Gentlemen who are the law officers of the Crown.

Do not let it be supposed for one moment that my right hon. Friend wishes that the Athenœum, or the Builder, or the Racing Times, or Mr. Novello's musical publications, should be stamped. He does not wish it at all—nothing is further from his thoughts. In fact, he is the resolved and unchangeable enemy of this stamp in every shape. But what he objects to is this, that, having laid on a stamp which is objectionable on every ground connected with the public interest, that you should so work it that it should catch merely one description of intelligence offered to the people, and allow other papers to be untouched by the stamp, contrary to the meaning of the law, in order not to excite public hostility, and in order that the public shall not prevent the continuance of the stamp on that particular class of information which you do not wish the public to possess. That is the real fact. There can be no doubt whatever in all its fiscal aspects, this question of the stamp, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer said on one occasion, is very immaterial and very insignificant. The stamp is retained with this tenacity in this shape, not for the sake of revenue, but because there has been a fear—in my opinion fear arising from ignorance and misconception—that cheap publications on political questions may be troublesome, and because some well-intentioned but misinformed men think that cheap publications may spread immorality and evil among the people. The hon. and learned Attorney General referred to the course of the Board of Inland Revenue with regard to what he calls class papers; and he admitted, very fairly, that the law does not exclude those papers from the operation of the stamp. And, in doing that, he only said what Judge Parke on the Bench had previously said, that, although these papers are devoted, one to architecture, one to literature, and another to horse-racing, that devotion to a particular subject does not exclude them from the operation of the law. Look at what this admission of the Attorney General really is. That a department of the State sitting at Somerset House, with a secretary and law officers, and all the incidentals of a public department—that this Board has been perpetually and continually allowing a large number of newspapers, published by a variety of persons, to be published weekly and monthly throughout this kingdom contrary to the Statute; and that not thousands, but hundreds of thousands, of pounds of taxes, which the Act of Parliament intended should be paid, have been remitted to individuals publishing papers which the Board thought were not objectionable, or perhaps useful. If one man in Manchester chooses to publish a paper with a summary of the debates of this House, with the Queen's Speech at the commencement of the Session, with the Address in answer to it, and with the proceedings of Parliament, he is taxed a penny on every paper he issues. This Board says to the man down at Manchester, "Pay your penny a week, a penny for every number (thousands of pounds a year it may be) into the Exchequer." But if another man in the Strand publishes a paper with details of all the exciting events of the turf, the Board says to him—"For you the Statute-book was not made." Although the Attorney General says the Statute-book was made for him, he is allowed to escape this tax, and I only mention this for the purpose of bringing, before the notice of the Government and of the House this argument against the tax—that if it were a good tax, if it were a wise tax, if it were an equal tax, certainly you would have applied it to all cases; but you are conscious that it is not a tax of that character, and you know, so worked, public opinion would overturn the tax, and in order to save a part of it you allow a considerable portion of the publications issued to escape taxation. Thus everybody knows one of the great arguments of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of the right hon. Baronet the Member for Halifax (Sir C. Wood), when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and of the late Sir Robert Peel—that their constant argument has been that certain taxes should be repealed or altered, because, from circumstances connected with them, it was impossible to make them equal or collect them without vast cost and vast injustice. I ask Gentlemen now sitting on the Treasury bench, who were sitting there with Sir Robert Peel, do they not remember when Sir Robert Peel exhibited, in the course of a speech, a handful of straw plait, and did he not tell the House it was absurd and impossible to retain a tax upon an article like that, in shape so light, so little bulky, that it could be smuggled into the country and the import duty evaded, thus destroying the efficacy of the law, and deluding manufacturers with the idea that they had a protection which they had not? To bring the case home. This is a tax which you cannot enforce. You admit you have not enforced it, and you allow that you have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds of revenue by not being able to enforce it. You say you are going to enforce it. I cannot tell the Attorney General I do not believe him. I believe he intends to do the best he can with this law, but I know it is not so easy to maintain it in every ease, and still maintain it on the statute-book, and I do not suppose he wants the tax extended any further.

Now, I wish to inquire what will be the operation of this statute on the proceedings of the electric telegraph companies. We go from this House to the Reform Club, to the Carlton Club, or to that club in St. James's Street which a distinguished individual said he never heard of, and you find in all of them information of what is here going on. Only leaving the Reform Club just now, I found in the hall a report of part of the speech of my right hon. colleague, but every such paragraph so published is a violation of the law. It is not at intervals of a week, a day, or an hour, but every five minutes the news from this House is being published all over London. It is sent down into the country and printed there also. I want to know whether the Attorney General intends to put a stop to that wonderful operation of the electric telegraph? Is a vast public company like this, having invested many hundreds of thousands of pounds, and doing that which is marvellous to the most intelligent, and scientific—bringing the public mind into more intimate connection with the transactions of the Houses of Parliament—is a public company to be insulted, taxed, worried, and destroyed by the Board of Inland Revenue, as it may be if this law is carried out? No, it will not be done. The Attorney General knows it will not be done. If somebody is to be found to do it, the hon. and learned Gentleman is not the man to be the instrument of such doings. The Attorney General knows too well what is the course of things in this country, and I have no expectation whatever that he, as a law officer of the Crown, will lend himself in any way to lessen the means of instruction to the public, or to diminish the breadth, the depth, and the number of those channels by which public and political information is spread through all parts of the kingdom. One point on which I wish to make an observation is the question of finance. I think I saw that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in answer to a deputation from Edinburgh requiring an advance of money (I am sorry to say these deputations from Edinburgh are not so rare as I could wish them to be), wishing to have some of the public money to support a public institution—a very good one I admit, but which in Manchester we should support ourselves—the Chancellor of the Exchequer, though he did not promise the vote, said he would not have it understood at all that, because we are at war, everything connected with art, science, and public instruction which costs something to the Exchequer, should, therefore, be thrown aside and neglected. He seemed to me to hold out a strong hope that he would consent to the vote.

Even if the Resolution of my right hon. Colleague were different, I think after that we should have reason to press it; but he has not asked the Government to abandon the 400,000l. of revenue raised on newspaper stamps. At present it is believed by persons connected with the Post Office that about as many newspapers go through the Post Office as are published in the kingdom. Assume, for argument's sake, that 100,000,000 of papers are published in a year, and that 100,000,000 of papers go annually through the Post Office. Some, however, never go through the Post Office, and some pass through several times. It is supposed, therefore, that the whole number going through is somewhere about the same as the whole number published. If the stamp were abolished and 400,000l. of revenue were given up, and a postage duty on every paper entering the Post Office were established as a substitute, the thing to ascertain is what number of newspapers would go through the Post Office as compared with the number now; because if 100,000,000 go through the Post Office then, and no more than 100,000,000 go through now, it is quite clear the Government will have as much money as they do now. I have discussed the question with gentlemen connected with the Post Office, but the point is not easily arrived at. In the correspondence, however, which the hon. Member for Westminster (Sir J. Shelley) has read to the House, we see from every part of the country constant applications whether such and such a paper is liable to the tax or not. That correspondence gives us some idea of the amount of pressure this Board of Inland Revenue brings to bear on the disposition of the people of this country to read—some idea of the number of papers actually strangled by the operation of this tax. Would any one believe that there are no less than seventy-five boroughs returning Members to this House in not one of which is a newspaper published? Such a thing would be totally incredible if related of England in any other country. But for this tax in every one of these boroughs there would be not only one paper, but an opposition paper as well, and half a dozen papers in some of them where there are none now. I do not say this is conclusive, but I put it to Gentlemen on the Treasury bench, who sometimes, perhaps, are amenable to argument. I assume that for every newspaper published in the United Kingdom there would be ten newspapers published if there were no newspaper stamp; and every one who knows the condition of things in our Colonies, and in the United States, knows I am not overstating the case. But if, instead of 100,000,000 of papers published every year, 1,000,000,000 were published, of all sizes, and at all periods, of from one day to a month, is it not fair to assume that one in ten of those newspapers would still pass through the Post Office? In all probability as many would pass through as now pass through, and if a post duty equal to the present stamp were paid by each, is it not quite clear that the sum the Chancellor of the Exchequer would receive would be just equal to what he receives now? I put this to show—first, that we are not asking you to diminish the revenue; and secondly, that we, who have paid more attention, perhaps, than any other men in the kingdom to the subject, see reason to believe that the revenue would not be materially diminished. Parliament seems to have little else to do this Session. All the measures of the Government are either withdrawn or rejected, and I do not see why we might not make the change with vast advantage to the country, and without any sacrifice of revenue which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would at all discover; for the very instant the stamp duty was abolished, the postage revenue would begin to increase, the paper duty would of course increase, and at the same time the enormous facilities it would open for communication between all classes would increase trade and consumption, and other sources of revenue. I am very sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not here, because I have that opinion of him—I believe the right hon. Gentleman wishes to have taxes fairly levied, and no fair argument on a matter of this sort, I have observed, is ever lost upon him.

Before I conclude, I just want to show hon. Gentlemen on the Treasury bench, not to plait straw, but I want to show them and the House what it is under this law which you tax. [The hon. Member produced a copy of the Times and Supplement, divided into single pages, and again joined together, so as to form one long strip of paper, which extended from the second row of seats a considerable distance beyond the feet of hon. Members sitting on the front benches.] That paper is the Times with a Supplement, and that pays a penny stamp with every copy. Now, this other is a paper published in the colony of Victoria, the Melbourne Argus, about the same size. There is no stamp in the colony of Victoria. The population there is not more than half the population of Manchester and Salford, and yet this paper publishes about 11,000 copies every morning, and the demand is so great compared with the means of printing they possess—because they have not the same admirable machinery as the Times—that I saw a notice in a recent number that to all future subscribers the price should be doubled, they should pay threepence instead of three halfpence. I ought to state that the price of the Times is fivepence. The price of the Melbourne Argus was three halfpence, and was to be doubled to threepence to those who came after the list was filled up. Now, here is the New York Tribune, a paper the size of the Times without a Supplement, that sells in New York every morning, to the working men of that city, for one penny. It is just as good a newspaper as the Times. I do not say all the leading articles are written With the ability of the Times, but many of them are. It has private boats coming off to meet every packet from England, miles before they approach the land; it has telegraphic despatches from every part of the Union; it employs correspondents in all the chief cities of Europe; and I have a list of all the persons employed on the staff of that paper, and the House will be perhaps astonished to hear that this paper, which sells for a penny to the artisans of New York, employs a staff not much short of 300 persons. It was also stated, I think, before the Newspaper Stamp Committee, that another paper in New sells only for a halfpenny, the New York Herald, the copyright of which sold for not less than 50,000l. I will undertake to say the copyright of the New York Herald was worth double the copyright of all the newspapers in London, with the exception of the Times. There they have free trade, and the press prospers and grows. Here it is crippled and hampered by the fetters of the Board of Inland Revenue. Look, for instance, at the Daily News. It is said that 100,000l. have been spent on that paper. Look at its circulation—how small—and by the returns, I believe it is even diminishing. Take the Morning Chronicle, that writes every day to a still more select audience. Take all the London papers, almost without exception, except the Times, and some of the threepenny papers that appeal to a totally different class of customers, and go to less expense that the daily papers, and it is the same. Look at what also you do. Here is an unfortunate paper which was strangled out of its little innocent life in the most remorseless manner, the Potteries Free Press, or Weekly Narrative of Current Events, published, as it states, "in conformity with the regulations of the Board of Inland Revenue, which permits the Athenœum, Builder, Punch, and other newspapers to be published without a stamp." Believing it was according to law, this modest little paper obtained a large circulation in the town of Stoke-upon-Trent. If it had not been for the Board of Inland Revenue, it would have sold 10,000 copies every week. Why does it not do it? Why, because of the Act of this House, which is horrified at the ignorance of the people—a House which votes 260,000l. every year for education, which appoints public inspectors of schools, and yet this House maintains a law that this little paper shall not prevail among the houses of the industrious artisans of Stoke-upon-Trent, unless it has a stamp of a penny at the corner, which doubles its cost, and, as a matter of course, immensely diminishes, and finally stops, its circulation.

Here is another case even more exas- perating, I think, than that—the West Sussex Advertiser and South Coast Observer, published by Mr. Mitchell, of Arundel. If those long Cabinet meetings which have recently been held had been devoted to a consideration of Mr. Mitchell's complaint, I think the public would have been much more advantaged. He lives in a district with a population of 100,000 persons, returning nine Members, without a single paper to enlighten one of them. [Laughter.] So much the better for the Members, says my hon. Friend. The House does not exist for the sake of the Members, but for the sake of the people. So much the worse for the people, say I; and I do not think Members of Parliament are any the worse because their constituents see a newspaper which sometimes says what they are doing. Look at the size of this newspaper, and compare it with the Times. They both pay a penny: The gentleman who published this West Sussex Advertiser took care to publish it on the first of every month, and at the end of every fortnight he published another paper under a different name. The law would not allow him to publish a newspaper without a stamp, unless it was on the first of the month, or within two days of the first of the month. The Secretary of the Board of Inland Revenue writes one of those polite notes to this gentleman, telling him that he is all wrong, that he is violating the law, that he has rendered himself liable to certain penalties, and they will only require him to pay 5l. and put a red stamp on the corner of each paper. The price of the paper is a penny. The stamp makes it twopence. Where, I ask, can you find an article of food on which the law puts 100 per cent, much less an article like this, which is not merely aliment for the body, but aliment for the mind. This gentleman states that in three little villages forty-one copies of this paper at a penny were sold—three little villages in which three copies of a newspaper had never before been regularly taken in. But the Board said, "Stamp it;" and what was the result? Out of the forty-one persons, thirty-seven discontinued the paper. In an admirable letter which I defy the Chancellor of the Exchequer, or any one else, to read without being convinced of the evil of the law, Mr. Mitchell said a woman came into his shop for a paper, and offered a penny. He said it was twopence, and explained the cause of the increase of price. She said her husband told her she would get it for a penny. He told her she should have that paper for a penny, and perhaps her husband would give twopence afterwards. Neither she nor her husband came again, and he lost that customer. I ask, then, knowing how much we all waste daily in our personal enjoyments, how can any man with 8s., 10s., 12s., or 14s. a week, or any sum which is the fair average wages of the great bulk of the population, contrive to purchase a newspaper at all without much closer calculations than we are accustomed to give to our concerns. Here is a man of this kind, labouring all day, earning a moderate amount of wages, anxious to learn something, whether he can get better wages elsewhere, whether it is worth while to emigrate, whether he can turn his hand to anything to earn a trifle more to educate his children, and the law denies him the means of information. If he had his newspaper, would he not ask his children, as we do—have I not done it myself this very day—to read a paragraph, to see how they are going on with their lessons at school? Would it not form a grand family college, at which children would find their power of reading gradually improved and sustained? And then we should not find, when these people came to be married, half of them, or two-thirds, have to sign their names with a cross. I ask the House, apart from all matters of financial consideration, looking at this small paper which I hold in my hand, suitable to small towns and villages, suitable to the capacity and time for reading as well as the pocket of the labouring classes, whether they will consent that the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall permanently place a penny tax on that small paper, and place the same tax on the large sheet of the Times. It is contrary to common sense. It is contrary to every principle this House has recognised, and I advise the Attorney General not to expend his legal acuteness in endeavouring to cobble up this law, which he knows be never can work according to the Statute. Let him, and the Solicitor General—not less distinguished for legal ability—let them both persuade the Government that the thing is a blunder; that in the time of Queen Anne, when you had two civil wars within a short period of the passing of that Act, and men in both Houses of Parliament sworn against the reigning dynasty, there might be some excuse for putting down the press, to prevent its exciting the people; though I must observe that it was denounced very much by hon. Gentlemen when that was done in France not long ago; but I assert there is no reason for doing so now. Is there any dispute about the dynasty? Is there any talk of overturning the institutions of the country? In no country in the world are the people more united upon general principles of politics, more disposed to place confidence in the Legislature and in the Crown, and to conduct themselves in obedience to the law, as becomes citizens of a free country.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) has referred to the Report laid before the House, of gentlemen who went out as a deputation from this country to the New York Exhibition. I have not read all Mr. Wallis's Report, but I have carefully read Mr. Whitworth's. Mr. Whitworth is a very distinguished civil engineer, living at Manchester; and he went out as one of the deputation to New York. I should like to read to the House the paragraph with which he concludes his Report—not a paragraph written for any special object, not written by a politician, for Mr. Whitworth, though a very sound politician, is not so distinguished in that line as in his own profession. This is the concluding paragraph of his Report. He says— It rarely happens that a workman who possesses peculiar skill in his craft is disqualified to take the responsible position of superintendent by the want of education and general knowledge, as is frequently the case in this country. In every State in the Union, and particularly in the north, education is, by means of the common schools, placed within the reach of each individual, and all classes avail themselves of the opportunities afforded. The desire of knowledge so early implanted is greatly increased, while the facilities for diffusing it are amply provided through the instrumentality of an almost universal press. No taxation of any kind has been suffered to interfere with the free development of this powerful agent for promoting the intelligence of the people, and the consequence is, that where the humblest labourer can indulge in the luxury of his daily paper, everybody reads, and thought and intelligence penetrate through the lowest grades of society. The benefits which result from a liberal system of education and a cheap press to the working classes of the United States can hardly be over-estimated in a national point of view; but it is to the co-operation of both that they must undoubtedly be ascribed. There are many things in Mr. Whitworth's Report which have startled the manufacturers of this country, showing, as he does, that in many trades, especially in certain departments, there is that which threatens, not only to equal, but to excel, anything which exists in this country. Now, bear in mind, we are close to the United States. Every week, what is known here is known there, and what is known there is known here. Every workman there has the same powers as a Member of Congress to read everything published in the public papers. In this country the very opposite takes place. You see in the public-house or beer-shop a newspaper doubled up in the bar window to tempt the working man to come from the street into the house to read it. You deny him the right to have that paper in his own home. You say, "Leave your wife and children—be no longer the husband and the father enjoying the social comforts of your home, but go down the street, and enter some public-house—some place in which they burn a great deal of gas. There you will find a newspaper, which the Government says you shall not have in your own house; and while you are reading that newspaper, and taking in a portion of some Parliamentary speech, you must imbibe a certain, or an uncertain, quantity of gin and water, or of some other equally objectionable mixture." That is the effect of this law; but that is not the state of things in the United States. I have a notion, Sir, of the balance of power, and I referred to it upon a recent occasion. I rejoice at every extension of the power, the greatness, the intelligence, and the industry of the United States. I believe that it will be no loss to us, that is, if we choose to take as wise a course as we may take. But if we distrust our population—if we say that we dare not trust them with political knowledge—if we have no regard for what an intelligent people can do for a free country—if we will not let them have access to the great instrument of knowledge—the greatest of all instruments now existing, and that which we ourselves use freely, then I say that we are hypocrites to the last degree, if we speak, as we sometimes do, of the ignorance and depravity of our countrymen. I know this—from observation among those whom I have myself employed—that if newspapers could be laid before them, which are just as enticing and just as alluring to them as they are to us, they would read them with eagerness, discuss them with fairness, and come to conclusions just as reasonable as those which would be come to by Members of this House. I know, further, that they would abstain from going into the public-house, and would get rid, by reading the newspapers, of some of those false, and mischievous, and evil economical principles, which are, unfortunately, only too apt to be accepted in all countries by all persons whose condition in life is not the most prosperous. I would ask the House, whether, on the ground of finance, not only to accept the Resolution, but to go much further, for I believe the finances of the country would not suffer from the change—whether, on the ground of giving political knowledge to our countrymen—and without political knowledge where would stand the free institutions of the country?—whether, on the ground of common education and of all those high grounds of morality which Parliament cannot overlook—I ask the House to say whether the time has not come when the stamp ought to be abolished as a stamp, and changed into a postage duty? You would thus set free hundreds of newspapers throughout the country in the course of a single year; and by that mode, I believe, would do more for all those objects which we profess to care very much for, both in speeches in this House and in the blue books, than by any other machinery whatever which human ingenuity can contrive or the powers of the Executive Government can enforce.


Sir, I think it is a rule deserving to be followed that when different persons concur on some points and have a difference on others, it is for the mutual advantage of all that they should endeavour to confine their action to those points on which they agree, and avoid, if it be not necessary, entering into collision upon those points on which they differ. Now, Sir, on the general scope of the Resolution proposed by my right hon. Friend (Mr. M. Gibson), I apprehend that the House will have seen from what has passed in this debate that there is no fundamental difference of opinion. It is admitted that the law in question requires to be considered, and that it is a fit subject for revision; but the Resolution of my right hon. Friend contains assertions not bearing necessarily on the points he has in view, and on which a difference of opinion has been stated. My right hon. Friend's Resolution asserts that the law is ill-defined: That is a question of legal opinion on which a difference has been stated, and I apprehend that it is hardly necessary for the purposes of my right hon. Friend to insist upon the assent of Parliament to that statement. The Resolution of my right hon. Friend also asserts that the law has been unequally enforced. Now, in the sense in which, by his speech, he has interpreted that part of the Resolution, the assertion is perfectly true and undeniable. There has been an unequal enforcement of the law, but anybody not cognisant of the details connected with the execution of the law, and who simply reads the Resolution, would infer that the Resolution means to imply that the law has been enforced with partiality, with favour, and with intentional injustice. [Mr. M. GIBSON: No, no!] That I apprehend has been disclaimed. [Cries of "Hear, hear!"] Well, but surely that is no good reason for adhering to words which are liable to an interpretation that is not meant. I should therefore submit to my right bon. Friend, that he will accomplish his purpose and render his Resolution free from objections that might be urged to it, if he will so far alter it as to content himself with the assertion, that—"The laws in reference to the periodical press and newspaper stamp demand the early consideration of Parliament, with the view (going further, perhaps, than the right hon. Gentleman) to their revision." I should submit to him that such a Resolution would answer his purpose, and it will not render the Board of Inland Revenue liable to a Parliamentary imputation, which he says he does not wish to inflict, while it steers clear of the debateable question as to whether the law is ill-defined-a matter of legal opinion which I really do not think we are called upon to decide. The speech of the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Bright) was chiefly directed to matters which are not involved in the Resolution, and which indeed my right hon. Friend studiously abstained from entering upon. The hon. Gentleman, following his own opinion, in language often well expressed, has argued at great length for the repeal of the stamp duty. But that is not the object of this Resolution, and my right hon. Friend stated that he did not mean to apply the Resolution to that point, and that it would not be fair to have done so in the absence of the Chancellar of the Exchequer. Therefore I do not enter upon a discussion on that subject; all I say is, that I entirely so far concur with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester that I think it must be an object of desire to everybody, and that it would be a great public advantage, to afford to the lower classes of this country all those means of general instruction that can well be brought within their reach. The abrogation of this peculiar stamp is only a matter of financial consideration, and it can only be maintained as a matter of finance. Undoubtedly everybody will admit, that the larger we open the field of general instruction, the firmer the foundations on which the order, the loyalty, and the good conduct of the lower classes will rest. On that subject I will not enter, as it is brought forward separately and distinctly. The present question refers to the resolutions of my right hon. Friend, and I really ask him, whether he does not think that the Resolution I suggest will perhaps better answer his purpose than that which he has proposed?


I really, Sir, do not exactly see why there should be this great objection on the part of the Government to the Resolution I have proposed. I well considered that Resolution before I submitted it to the House, and knowing the great adroitness of the noble Lord—I beg his pardon for the expression—and his experience in the conduct of these Parliamentary affairs, I confess that I feel some reluctance to give it up, and to assent to the words which he has suggested to me. If he agrees with what I have said, why not take my Resolution? If he disagrees with what I have said, that seems to me to be a ground for making an appeal to the House. I heard the word "revision." Now, I do not want to bind myself to what is called "revision." My position is this. I complain of certain laws as ill-defined and unequally enforced, and I call upon the Government of the country to take their own course, and to come to us with some mode or other of meeting the evils which I complain of. When they submit their remedy, I shall be prepared to give my opinion either in favour of or against it, but I decline, for one, to be a party to revising this particular law, because I am in favour of the repeal of it. All I ask the House to do now is, not to vote in favour of repeal, but to go so far with me as to say that the law is ill-defined and unequally enforced, and that it is the duty of the Government to submit to the House some plan or other of meeting those evils. I throw the responsibility upon the Government. The noble Lord now asks me to share that responsibility by talking about "revising." My wish, however, is to leave it to the Government to decide whether they will revise or whether they will repeal; and on these grounds I can be no party to the alteration which the noble Lord has proposed.


I wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether I clearly understand that his Resolution as he proposes it is not meant to imply any censure, any accusation of unfairness, or partiality, against the Board of Inland Revenue? If that is clearly understood, I do not think the difference of wording is a matter of any great importance.


I thought that, in my opening remarks, I had distinctly guarded myself against being misunderstood upon that subject. I bring no charge whatever against the Chairman of the Board of Inland Revenue or his officers, I only attack the system, which I say is calculated to cast unmerited odium upon them.

Previous Question, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

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