§ Order for Committee read.
§ MR. COWAN
said, he had given notice of his intention to move certain clauses and amendments, with the view of repealing the restrictions and limitations with respect to the number of sheets of paper, and the dimensions of the letter-press, whether of newspapers or periodical publications, imposed by the Acts now in force; and, also, for providing for the conveyance through the Post Office not only of newspapers, but of all printed matter, at the rate of one halfpenny for each transmission for every two ounces or portion of two ounces carried, or at such rates as would duly remunerate the Post Office for the service performed. It would perhaps be convenient to the House, therefore, if he took that opportunity of explaining the nature of the amendments he proposed to submit to the Committee. He had been fur many years connected, in the way of business, with the newspaper press, and had supplied many newspaper proprietors with paper and with stamped sheets. He had considered it his duty to vote for the 1659 second reading of this Bill, but he had not done so without reluctance, because he was very unwilling to sacrifice a revenue of 200,000l. a year in times like the present, when it was most important to husband the resources of the country. He thought, however, that when the Government did not, or at all events could not enforce the existing law, a change was imperative, and he supported the second reading of the Bill in the belief that, eventually, the revenue would not suffer to any extent, if at all, from the alteration which was proposed. He had looked through the various Acts of Parliament which for many years, up to 1825, had regulated newspaper stamps, and he thought they bore evidence of the disposition of the Legislature from the time of Queen Anne, to hamper and restrict newspaper proprietors. Previously to 1825 no newspaper could be legally published of larger dimensions than twenty-two inches by thirty-two inches—a size much smaller than that of the evening London journals at the present time. At that time the weight of a newspaper did not exceed 1½oz., and the stamp duty was 4d. on each paper less 20 per cent. The stamp duty was afterwards reduced to ld., without any restriction as to the size of newspapers; but by an Act of Parliament subsequently passed a limitation was imposed upon their size. It appeared to him that, in 1836, the Government of that time had no idea what would be the result of the introduction of steam printing machines and railways in bringing on the present fix which they were in. There was no reason why the law of 1836 should have been accompanied with such an endless quantity of restrictions as to stamps, weight, and size. The effect of that law was to throw on the Post Office an enormous quantity of work, which it could not have sustained without the railways, He thought this was a fitting opportunity to consider whether the postage law should not be so altered as to make the carriage remunerative at lower rates, and the object of his proposition was to enable newspapers to pass through the post at the rate of one halfpenny for every two ounces. He considered that, unless such a system were adopted, the country newspaper proprietors would be subjected to very great hardship, for many of them would have to reduce the price of their journals to 2d. He had seen "specimen" newspapers, which were published day by day at the price of 1d.,and. being to all intents and purposes 1660 newspapers, so long as the present law remained in force they were unquestionably illegal. He held in his hand a newspaper which was issued every day at the price of a penny, and he considered that it was most unjust to existing newspapers that such publications should be allowed. The hon. Member handed the paper to which he referred to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who observed that it was a "specimen" number. He was aware it was a "specimen" number; but these "specimen" numbers were published day after day. He understood that there was an indisposition on the part of the Government to reduce the duty below ld., but although 1d. might not be a high charge for a newspaper which weighed four ounces, and the cost of which was 5d., it would amount in the case of such specimens as those to which he had directed the attention of the House to a charge of 100 per cent. He thought the country owed much to the newspaper press for its contribution to the information and enjoyment of the people during the last twenty or thirty years. The press had become a great educational institute, and he was most anxious that the humble classes of society should have the means of procuring newspapers at a moderate price. He did not see the necessity of making a distinction between newspapers and other periodical publications, but thought they ought all to be classed under the same category, and he could assure the House that in making these suggestions he was animated not by a spirit of opposition to the Government, but by a desire to make the Bill generally acceptable. He did not wish to press his proposition unduly, but he trusted that the Government would give it every favourable consideration.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he regretted extremely to find that the Government did not accede to the substitution of a halfpenny stamp in return for the privilege of passing newspapers through the Post Office. In his opinion, this was a most serious question, affecting, as it did, the educated classes of the country, to whom the reading of the current news had become a necessity. The hardship inflicted by the Bill in its present state would fall more particularly upon constituencies such as he represented, and would scarcely be felt in large towns, to which unstamped papers would be brought by railways. But it would operate most unfairly to the proprietors of newspapers published in country districts which must depend mainly 1661 for their circulation in the rural districts upon the facilities afforded by the Post Office, and he therefore hoped the Government would take into their serious consideration the propriety of reducing the tax on that class of the community to a halfpenny, because, if they did not, he was certain they would destroy much of the good anticipated by the supporters of the measure—namely, that all classes, and particularly the lower classes, of the community should participate in the intellectual advantage and amusement of reading the newspapers. It must be remembered that persons living in country districts derived their whole supply of newspapers through the post, and from those local newspaper proprietors whose capital could ill afford an extreme pressure upon it. As far as the question of revenue was concerned, he believed they would rather gain than lose by reducing the postal charge to a halfpenny, for, if they did not do so, private enterprise would soon compete with the Post Office in rural districts, and the revenue from this source might be entirely lost.
§ House in Committee.
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2,
§ MR. COLLIER
said, that the Amendment of which his hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh (Mr. Cowan) had given notice having been withdrawn, he would venture to suggest some alterations in this clause, which he thought would embody the propositions of his hon. Friend. He would therefore propose that, instead of a stamp of a penny, which was imposed by this clause as the charge for postal conveyance, a halfpenny stamp should be substituted, and that such stamp should be imposed for each transmission by post, which he thought would be the fair and equitable manner of settling this question. He did not put this proposition entirely upon financial grounds, but upon the higher considerations of the duty they owed to the country to promote the cause of education, and it was therefore of the greatest possible importance that the best class of newspapers should be allowed the greatest possible facilities for circulation. Any tax restricting the transmission of knowledge was essentially a tax upon knowledge itself, and therefore it was with some confidence that he expected the support of those who had so long agitated for the repeal of the taxes on knowledge, in favour of his proposition fur the reduction of the tax upon 1662 the conveyance of this most important species of knowledge to a halfpenny. There was another reason for pressing this Amendment. At present the London papers were upon the same footing as those in the provinces, a duty of a penny was imposed upon the transmission of all the London papers, being at the rate of 25 per cent upon those published at fourpence, 33 per cent on threepenny papers, and so on, which would operate materially as a protective duty on the lower class of provincial papers as against those published in London; but, if the Bill passed as it now stood, a low class of provincial papers would spring up, which, to some extent, would be nothing less than piratical publications from the London press. They all knew the enormous expense with which some of the London papers were conducted—they had an opportunity of reading the early and important news received by their means from the seat of war, they knew the high literary character of their articles, and they remembered the eulogium passed upon one of those papers by the hon. Member for Hertfordshire (Sir B. Lytton), who had declared that if he desired to leave to remote posterity some memorial of existing British civilisation he would appeal to a file of The Times newspaper. It seemed to him (Mr. Collier) that the imposition of a penny would be a protective duty, and that while it would materially diminish the circulation of London newspapers it would unduly increase provincial ones of a low class. He would not go into detail respecting the question of revenue, but merely refer the House to an able paper drawn up by a deputation which lately waited on the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and which gave very satisfactory reasons for supposing that, in all probability, the reduction of the postal charge to a halfpenny would improve it. In that document an opinion was attributed to Mr. Rowland Hill, to the effect that, with a redaction of the stamp duty and the continuance of a high rate of postage, not half the present number of newspapers would be circulated through the post. That was an additional reason fur reducing it to a halfpenny, for he must say that he viewed with apprehension a decree of the circulation of the London papers throughout the country to the extent of half their present number. Such a question was beyond financial considerations; but, if Mr. Rowland Hill's opinion were correct, there was every reason to suppose that if a halfpenny stamp were 1663 substituted an increase in the revenue would result. The Post Office, he felt confident, would not be able to compete with the railways if they retained the penny stamp, for he was informed that at present seven impressions of The Times were carried by railway for one penny, and that a large number of the Leeds Mercury, containing seventy or eighty pages, were conveyed a distance of thirty two miles through the district for the like sum. There could be no doubt, therefore, that as a mere question of competition the railways could beat the Post Office. His Motion would be to vary the clause by inserting a provision to the effect that every periodical publication specified, stamped with a halfpenny stamp, or having such stamp affixed to it, should be allowed to pass once through the Post Office, and that every such additional stamp should entitle it to retransmission, subject to the provisions of the Act. That would leave the question of the weight and size of the publication so allowed to be transmitted open for further consideration.
§ MR. COWAN
said, he wished to explain that it was not competent for him to propose his Amendment before Mr. Speaker left the Chair. It was his wish, if possible, to have elicited some expression of opinion from the Government favourable to his views, but he had not yet succeeded in doing so. He knew that there were great difficulties in carrying out a measure like this, in connection with the Post Office, and he should be unwilling to take any course by which the Post Office would be forced to adopt a measure which would cause inconvenience. He still hoped to hear some assurance from the Government that they entertained a favourable opinion of his proposal. In the meantime he would support the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend.
said, the question immediately before the Committee was whether, in sending a newspaper through the Post Office, the stamp should be a penny or a halfpenny? and there was a further question, whether the postage charged, whatever it might be, should send a newspaper through the post once only or several times? Now as to the latter question, affecting the retransmission of newspapers, he apprehended there was some little collision between what ought to be done in deference to existing interests, and what should be done on the principles of abstract right. He never 1664 could see on what ground of abstract right it was that a letter of half an ounce with a penny stamp went through the Post Office only once while a newspaper with a stamp of the same value might go an indefinite number of times. If Parliament were dealing with this question de novo he should have no hesitation in saying that this right of retransmission was one that could not be maintained; but they had to deal with interests that had grown up under the law, and looking at the matter in this light, even the right hon. Gentleman below the gangway (Mr. Gladstone), whose measure was more stringent than the present, proposed to retain the right of retransmission for a considerable period. If it was proposed to do away with that right at once and without previous notice, he thought it would be a departure from the ordinary course of Parliamentary proceedings and be productive of injury to interests created under the law, and a greater evil than the Legislature would be morally justified in inflicting. The proposal now was, that the price of transmission should be not a tax, but a postage stamp, and the question now before the Committee was whether that stamp should be a penny or a halfpenny. That question had not been raised till that evening in the House, but they were all more or less familiar with it by means of information which had been very industriously circulated. He believed it would be admitted that there was no wish to make revenue out of this carriage of newspapers; but, on the other hand, the newspaper interest had no right to ask that their productions should be carried at less than cost price. It should be as near as possible an equal bargain between the parties, by which neither the revenue on the one hand, nor the newspapers on the other, should gain. If the House of Commons once laid down that principle, the question would become one wholly of detail, and rather a question for the Post Office department than for the House to settle. He believed it was the opinion of the Post Office that a halfpenny would not be sufficient to cover the expenses of transmission. Whether that was so or not, there were some in the House better able to say than he was; but he begged to say a word or two as to the risk of the Post Office being undersold by private means. That risk did not weigh very much with him. The House must calculate on an enormous increase in the number of newspapers, which 1665 would throw an additional burden upon the Post Office. It was already found that in some places the increase of weight in the carriage of newspapers had been such as to cause considerable inconvenience to the local post. He did not know that there could be any object in attempting to prevent newspapers being carried by private parties. There was something to be looked at on both sides; but it was, in his opinion, a question which very much depended on what the Post Office Department might think would be a remunerative price. He believed a halfpenny would be below that price, and therefore he would support the proposition in the Bill for a penny. If the Committee were to carry out the intention of the hon. and learned Member—if 50z. or 60z. of printed matter were to be carried for a halfpenny—it would be difficult to maintain the discrepancy which would then exist between those two articles to which he had a short time since alluded—namely manuscript letters and printed matter. The difference was one for which he could see no fair ground or justification. He thought the House ought to avoid making unnecessary alterations; and, unless they were to have a different opinion from the Postmaster-General, he thought the penny stamp proposed in the Bill should be adhered to. For the present only, he would be prepared to continue the privilege of retransmission, but he could not conceal from himself that sooner or later it would have to be done away with.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, he must beg to recall the attention of the Committee to the origin of the Bill now before them. The Bill originated in difficulty which arose in enforcing the compulsory stamp. It was found that the law was ambiguous, and some inconvenience had arisen in the practical-administration of it. A Resolution was passed by the House last year condemnatory of the stamp, but not adverting to the pecuniary amount of the stamp, and in the present Session a Bill was introduced by the right hon. gentleman his predecessor, dealing with the question. The object of that Bill was to remove the compulsory stamp; and the Bill now under the consideration of the Committee was founded on identically the same principle. It was limited to the removal of the practical difficulty that had arisen in the enforcement of the stamp on all newspapers, and the wish of the Government was to 1666 make no further alteration than was absolutely necessary for the accomplishment of that limited object. They did not ask to lower the rate of the duty, but keep it exactly as it was, at the rate of a penny for a sheet of a certain size. The great objection taken to the measure on the second reading was, that it would endanger a large amount of revenue at a time when the expenditure of the country exceeded its income. It was then shown that the sacrifice of revenue, though considerable, would be met in the financial scheme of the year; and, accordingly, in the statement which he submitted on Friday an Estimate was made allowing for the deficiency of revenue in consequence of the change which it was proposed should take place. Since the second reading of the Bill—when they were told that so much depended on the maintenance of the stamp —a further question had been raised, namely, the reduction of the penny stamp to a halfpenny, and it was argued that this would be attended with no diminution, but rather with an increase of the revenue. Now, it certainly was possible that the sanguine calculations of the promoters of that plan might be realized; but, at the same time, they were founded on most uncertain data, and, therefore, the Government were not prepared to run the risk that would attend such a reduction of the duty, but felt themselves bound to adhere to the original proposition which they had made. The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Collier) in proposing his amendment, had involved himself in a difficulty which arose out of the change be advocated. The hon. and learned Gentleman proposed both to retain the impressed stamp and to introduce a postage stamp. If the impressed stamp were retained it would be difficult to prevent the re-transmission of newspapers with the impressed stamp through the post, without imposing upon the Post Office the trouble of examining every newspaper and obliterating the stamp. If they were creating a system for the first time, unquestionably the most convenient plan would be not to have the impressed stamp at all, but to make the transmission of newspapers through the post depend on a postage stamp, the weight of each newspaper being at the same time limited. If the hon. and learned Member introduced a postage stamp, it became necessary to impose a limit of weight; and then immediately arose the difficult question of how to re- 1667 concile the weight for newspapers with the present limit of superficial inches. The limit retained in the Bill was wholly independent of limited weight, and, if the hon. and learned Gentleman introduced a limit of weight to bear some proportion to the superficial limit, it would be the means of producing great confusion and difficulty at the Post Office. On these grounds, combined with the uncertainty of the halfpenny stamp producing the amount of revenue anticipated, he must oppose the proposed amendment.
§ MR. MONCKT ON MILNES
said, he trusted that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, since he admitted the principle of diminishing the revenue for an educational purpose, would consent to diminish it a little more, if necessary, for the purpose of obtaining the educational advantages likely to result from the proposed amendment. Great weight was due to the argument of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier) that the retransmission through the post of the London newspapers, conducted, as they were, with such great ability and containing matter of such great educational importance, should be in every way encouraged. He believed that the law of the United States at the present moment established a differential postage on the transmission of newspapers within certain limits, and the result was that the transmission over the United States of newspapers, conducted with very great ability and at great expense, was prevented, and encouragement to an infinite extent was given to smaller and less carefully conducted newspapers. It was a singular fact that the great agitation on this matter came from the proprietors of provincial newspapers, who thought that they would be benefited by the proposed amendment, and there could be no doubt that the great London newspapers would also be benefited by it. He believed that the advantage of the transmission of such a newspaper as The Times at the smallest possible expense could not be overrated. They all had in London the opportunity of having on their breakfast table such papers, conducted with an intellectual power which might compete with that necessary for the highest productions of literature, and if the Chancellor of the Exchequer by any means in his power, even at a small additional sacrifice to the revenue, promoted their larger circulation, he would be serving both the literature and the education of the coun- 1668 try. He believed that the practical difficulties of the proposition had been overrated, and he conceived that retransmission by post would not take place except in cases where the newspaper contained something of sufficient interest to create a great demand for it. Therefore, even if there were a temporary loss to the revenue, in that respect the advantage to the country would be very great.
said, he agreed with the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) that the question of retransmission must be dealt with within certain limits and upon grounds which were already established. The privilege of retransmission had reference to the fixed habits of the community, and to part with it suddenly would be an inconvenience; but the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down was so much enamoured with retransmission that he strongly insisted upon its merits. He proposed to give the London newspaper, in some shape or other, an extraordinary right, which smacked very much of their old friend Protection; but he, for one, thought the superior article ought to stand upon its own merits. But if the hon. Gentleman was so much in favour of retransmission, he ought upon that very ground not to vote for the Amendment, but to support the Bill as it stood, because the Amendment virtually proposed to abolish the privilege of retransmission, while the Bill of the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to retain it. With respect to the question of price, he agreed with the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn that it ought to rest entirely with the Executive to determine it; but, said the hon. Member who last addressed them, "You have for educational purposes consented to a diminution of the tax, and it is no very great matter if you consent to a further diminution." But that was not the question before the Committee. True, it was agreed on all hands that no profit should be expected from this source of revenue, but the question was not whether the State should be saddled with a perpetual service for the benefit of that portion of the community who printed and who read newspapers. If they did what the Amendment proposed, it would be practically subsidising the transmission of newspapers at the expense of the State, which was bad in principle; but in his opinion it was totally unnecessary. He knew no reason in the world why literature at large might not claim such a pri- 1669 vilege just as well as newspapers; but the real question to be determined was, what was the lowest charge at which the State could undertake the transmission of newspapers without incurring loss. Of course, between large towns newspapers could be transmitted in parcels by railway cheaper than by post, but it was not fair to treat this as a question of competition between the Post Office and private companies. Private companies were at liberty to make such arrangements as best suited their own convenience; they could reject or transmit just as they pleased; but it was quite different with the Post Office, because it had no alternative but to carry for everybody at a fixed scale of charge. The consequence would be then, if the Amendment were adopted, that the railways would carry newspapers in bulk, while the Post Office would have to perform the worst and most unprofitable part of the transmission service. Now, could the Post Office undertake for a halfpenny to perform the most difficult and the most unprofitable portion of the transport, such as carrying newspapers to the greatest distance or into remote and unfrequented quarters? That was a question very much for the Government themselves to determine, but his conviction was that the service could not be performed for a halfpenny. It was easy to say that the loss would be small between a halfpenny and the cost of transport, which might be three farthings; but the loss became no small matter when they came to multiply the farthing by 90,000,000, or by the still larger figures which an increased number of newspapers must necessarily occasion. An average charge must therefore be fixed in reference to that circumstance, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, knowing all the facts, stated that he could not undertake to perform the service for the remuneration which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Collier) desired to establish. He had himself considered the question as well as he could, and his conviction was that this rate of a halfpenny would entail on the Post Office a very heavy cost for the benefit of the publishers and readers of newspapers. He had been told that, with the charge made for the early trains from London to Liverpool and Manchester, it did not pay to send down the advertising sheet of The Times, and that, while the sheet containing the news was forwarded by the six o'clock train, the advertising sheet was actually retained in London to go by the Post Office train at 1670 ten o'clock; so great was the necessity for economising the expense of transport in order to make this early delivery pay. Neither was it found, he believed, that the extra charge made by those who undertook to deliver those newspapers in the towns was ever less than 1d. It was difficult, however, to get at any precise data with regard to these matters, and for that reason they were not justified now in going below the ld. charge. They ought carefully to examine the ground as they went, and not enter blindly on a course in which, if unsuccessful, they could not retrace their steps. He hoped, therefore, that the Committee would leave it to the Government to look into the subject, to see if they could carry newspapers and other printed matter at a less charge than 1d., and not consent now to burden the State with a heavy charge for a purpose which it was generally felt was not perfectly legitimate or fair towards all classes of the community.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he did not think it was likely that the Post Office would lose by the transmission of newspapers at a halfpenny, for he was informed that in America a newspaper could travel 3,000 miles for one cent, and certainly they were not the people in America to allow the Post Office to be worked at a loss. The difficulty anticipated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the retransmission would be easily obviated by requiring that the direction should be written across the stamp, or that it should be obliterated in the same way as letter stamps now were; and that when the newspaper was transmitted a second time, a second stamp should be affixed, to be obliterated in like manner, and that, in the absence of such second stamp, a retransmitted newspaper should be charged 1d. Neither did he share in the anticipations which had been expressed as to the labour and expense to which the Post Office would be put in delivering newspapers in thinly populated districts; for, of course, they would not be obliged to deliver newspapers except in the districts where they were now obliged to deliver letters.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he apprehended that the proposition to which the Committee was now asked by the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth to accede to was, that the State should undertake to carry periodical publications of any size or any weight for a halfpenny.
§ MR. BARROW
The right hon. Gen- 1671 tleman must remember that they were limited in their superfices.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, that was not the proposition. As he understood the Amendment, the Post Office was to be required to carry all newspapers or periodical publications without limitation of size or weight. [Mr. COLLIER said, that would be a matter for future consideration.] A periodical publication was to be carried for a halfpenny, whatever its weight, but a pamphlet would have to be weighed like a letter, and to contribute probably 3d., 4d., or 6d. for every transmission. Suppose, for instance, that he were slandered by a periodical publication, was it right that that publication, whatever its size or weight, should be transmitted through the country for a halfpenny, while the printed answer which he might make to that slander, because it was only an occasional publication, would be charged 3d. or 4d. every time it was transmitted through the post? Therefore, before he could consent to allow these periodical publications to be transmitted for a halfpenny, he must have a clear understanding whether occasional publications of the same weight would be transmitted at the same rate of postage. Justice in competition was quite as important as any other consideration. At the present time pamphlets were being published to defend the characters of Lord Raglan and Sir John Burgoyne against the attacks of the periodical press; but, while the periodical press could circulate and retransmit their attacks without any additional charge for postage, except the original newspaper stamp of ld., the answers to them, on the contrary, had to pay postage according to letter weight at each transmission. If that were to be the practice, it was not likely that Lord Raglan, as the noble Lord the Member for London had predicted of him, "would rise superior to the slanders of a ribald press;" on the contrary, what he would require would be to be put on a fair footing with it. He should oppose the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, because he saw that it was merely meant to confer a privilege on a certain class of publications, and that it would not have been asked for had it been quite clear to the applicants that it was to be extended to all publications. It was an attempt to establish for the future a postal privilege in place of the advantages which it was erroneously supposed newspapers had enjoyed under the operation of a compulsory stamp. 1672 Knowing that this postal charge could be at any time reduced by a Treasury Order if the Government should think fit so to do, or if the newspaper proprietors could persuade them that it could be done with advantage, he should certainly oppose the introduction of this Amendment into the Bill.
§ MR. PHILIPPS
said, he hoped the Committees would not consent to try any experiments with the Post Office until they had before them a complete and clear balance-sheet of the profit and loss of the Post Office service. It was stated that the gain in this department was, for the last year, 16,538l.; but this did not include the expense of the packet service. In the absence of a clear statement of the expense of the packet service, there would be a general delusion with regard to the clear income derivable from the Post Office. In the statement of the actual income of 1854–55 the Post Office revenue appears as 1,276,000l. This sum does not include the expense of the packet service, which, according to a Parliamentary paper just delivered, amounts to 812,826l. This does not prove a deficiency, but a very considerable difference between real and imaginary revenue. Persons who have examined the matter carefully are of opinion that if the expense of the packet service had been clearly brought into the account in several years past the Post Office accounts would have presented an actual deficiency.
§ Amendment withdrawn.
§ Clause agreed to; as was also Clause 3.
§ Clause 4,
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, that by Clause 2 of the Bill they subjected periodicals to the same regulations as newspapers, and by Clause 3 those periodicals would be entitled to transmission by post. Clause 4 provided that newspapers should be registered. There was, however, some doubt whether Clauses 4, 5, and 6, were obligatory or not upon all newspapers. If they were not, this inconsistency would exist—that whereas periodical publications would be assimilated to newspapers, and stamped newspapers must register and give security under 6 & 7 Will. IV.; on the other hand, newspapers that were not stamped would not be required to be registered, unless the publishers thought fit. Now, what he wanted to know was this—why should stamped newspapers be subjected to compulsory registration and unstamped newspapers be exempted from this condition? 1673 That point, be it observed, bad nothing whatever to do with the vexed question as to the definition of a newspaper. The respectable journals which paid the stamp duty were to be subject to the wise and wholesome law that compelled them to declare who were their proprietors, in order that any person whom they libelled might know who was the responsible individual against whom he should proceed to obtain redress, and why, therefore, should those publishers who did not pay this tax, and who might overwhelm the country with penny and halfpenny publications slandering everybody, be wholly released from this salutary restraint, and be, in fact, afforded facilities for the circulation of wholesale libels? It was clear that the wording of the clause required alteration, as there should be but one law applying to all newspapers alike, whether stamped or unstamped, for the purpose of adequately protecting the community.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was perfectly competent for the Committee to make the alteration which the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Whiteside) proposed; but, if that were done, the object in view must be enforced by penalties, and this measure had been drawn so as to avoid all imposition of penalties. The 7th clause gave the Board of Inland Revenue power to issue stamps, and if any newspaper or periodical desired to enjoy the privilege of transmission by post for 1d. it must apply to them in order to be stamped. On this privilege being granted to them, the publishers must comply with the clauses respecting registration and securities. In fact, therefore, the operation of these clauses would be contingent on the receipt of stamps, because the delivery of stamps would be made conditional on compliance with these regulations. The reason why the Bill had been drawn in this manner was, that it was thought every periodical publication or newspaper enjoying any circulation of the least consideration or extent would, for its own interest and the convenience of its customers, apply for the stamping of a portion of its impression, thus voluntarily bringing itself within the scope and operation of these clauses. It was, however, conceivable that a certain number of obscure and unimportant newspapers and periodicals of extremely limited circulation might contrive to exist for a time without stamping any portion of their impression for the sake 1674 of the postal facilities which accompanied that process; but that was a very improbable contingency, and there could he little doubt that the Bill as it stood would practically, and without the enforcement of penalties, insure compliance by all newspapers worthy of mention with that system of registration and securities which protected, not the Government or public authorities only, but private individuals, against libellous and slanderous attacks upon character. If, however, it should be thought desirable to insist by means of penalties upon registration, and the giving of securities on the part of all periodical publications without exception, it would be competent for the House to give that extension to the measure; but Her Majesty's Government did not propose to make these provisions compulsory.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, he had prepared a proviso to be added to the clause, if the Committee thought fit, requiring all newspapers, though unstamped, to register and give security under a penalty of 20l.
§ MR. G. BUTT
said, that this Bill would release from the operation of the existing law of registration such publications as did not choose to avail themselves of the postal regulation. It would also sweep away another valuable protection provided by the existing law, which required securities to be given by responsible persons, so that persons who might have to bring actions for slander against newspaper proprietors might not find that they had been proceeding against mere "men of straw." The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that the respectable papers would apply to be stamped, and thus become subject to these wholesome conditions; but he should remember that there was no necessary connection between a mere postal regulation and the registration of publications; and the existing law treated the two things, which rested upon entirely different grounds, as perfectly distinct. The fear of mischief from libellous publications was not so slight as the right hon. Gentleman would have them believe because it might suit the interest of persons to circulate them in large towns, where they would not care for postal privileges. On what principle, then, could they maintain the existing law against the respectable newspapers, which would least require the check it imposed, while the less respectable class of publications, which would most need the restraint of such a law, would be 1675 wholly exempted from its operation, and left to enjoy unrestricted license?
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the hon. and learned Member would observe that the Act to which he referred was limited only to newspapers, and did not apply to all periodicals. Now, the Bill under consideration applied to all periodical publications published within thirty-one days; the hon. and learned Member by his proposal would, however, extend the regulations of this Act to periodical publications not comprised within the original Act. There were a great many publications at a halfpenny and a penny supported by religious societies, which had a large circulation amongst the lower classes; these papers were not transmitted by post, but in monthly parcels, and he did not apprehend that if this Bill passed these publications would seek to avail themselves of the postal privilege, and it would be very hard to bring them under the regulation of a law which was not originally intended to apply to them. By limiting the registration of publications to the cases of those persons who voluntarily sought to avail themselves of the postal privilege the House would apply the Act to all newspapers of importance, and, by the spontaneous operation of the Act, would exempt from it these periodical publications to which it was not intended to apply.
§ MR. G. BUTT
said, that at present all newspapers must be registered, and give security to answer for libels; but the effect of the present Bill would be to enable parties to publish newspapers without availing themselves of the postal regulations, and then they would not be under the necessity of registering and finding security.
said, that some hon. Members thought that, because they voted for compulsory registration, they therefore voted for security being given in case of libel, but he did not think so, and was of opinion that the securities required were nugatory as a protection, and simply vexatious to those who had to give them. He wished to draw the distinction between unnecessary security and that which was alone contemplated by the Bill, namely, registration, which simply meant that every person issuing a periodical publication should make a declaration, stating the name of the proprietor. There was nothing in this which could be called an annoyance or a hardship, and he was in favour of the compulsory registration, if 1676 necessary, of all periodical publications, but protested against carrying with it that which had nothing to do with it, namely, the question of securities.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, he would beg to move, as an Amendment, that the following words should be inserted in the clause—And be it enacted that, after the publishing of this Act, the proprietors of every newspaper or periodical publication shall make and deliver," &c.The insertion of these words was rendered necessary by the terms of the clause as it at present stood, as by it the registration of all periodicals was not required.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he would ask the hon. and learned Member by what machinery he proposed to carry into effect his proposition that every person who published a periodical should register it? They would be obliged, if his Amendment became law, to have officers to go round the country to compel publishers to register. He did not think it would bp possible to enforce a general registration without having new machinery, which would be of a vexatious and troublesome character. He believed that registration under the existing Act was entirely neglected, and that if even stamped newspapers were required to comply with all the provisions of the clause requiring registration, the Board of Inland Revenue would have little else to do. He was in favour of tracing authorship, and of bringing home to every responsible person the publication of a calumny, but there was at present a law in force which effected this, as it required that to every paper should be affixed the place of abode and name of the printer, who was obliged, under the Act, to keep a record of his employers, and this he was compelled to produce under order of a justice of the peace. They therefore, he considered, had a sufficient remedy for the evil apprehended, and this attempt to enforce registration was consequently unnecessary.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, that no difficulty as to machinery to enforce registration would arise, as under the Act of the 6 & 7 Wm. IV., quoted in the Bill before the Committee, this was fully provided for. He objected to the argument used by the right hon. Member who had just addressed them, that because certain persons broke the law which was not enforced. therefore the law should be abolished. The right hon. Member had expressed a strong desire to trace the authorship of libels; but 1677 how could this be done unless registration; was enforced? If, as the right hon. Member had stated, cheap papers were to spring up on all sides, conducted by men of surprising ability, who would crush the present papers—the old monopolists—he thought, at least, that they ought to be afforded a chance of knowing those who crushed them.
§ MR. WARNER
said, he thought it was admitted that there was something wrong in the present system of registration; but this, in his opinion, would be rendered much worse by the present clause. Some such amendment as that proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) was called for; but he could not agree with the hon. and learned Member as to the propriety of enforcing registration by the cumbrous machinery referred to.
said, he was in the unfortunate predicament of disliking both the Proposal of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Amemnent of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Enniskillen. They had opposite characteristics and opposite merits. He admitted that the hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal was, in his opinion, more consistent with the uniformity of principle which that House ought to observe in its proceedings than that of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he objected to it because the principle upon which it was founded was a wrong one. The hon. and learned Gentleman required that all periodical publications should be registered, and that certain declarations should be made in regard to them. But what security would be gained by that registration which was not gained by the present law requiring the printer's name to be upon the publication? He had listened in vain for an indication of any such security or practical advantage. It might be true that in cases of libel the publication of the printer's name did not point out the real libeller, but it would be quite as true with respect to any name which might be registered. It appeared to him that the only effect of the Amendment would be to impose unnecessary trouble and vexation upon many persons, and he should therefore say "No" to it. He must also say "No" to the right hon. Gentleman's clause, because it was irrational, and one part of it was not consistent with the other. The present law requiring the registration of all 1678 publications which contained discussions upon public affairs was intelligible, and was intended to guard against a particular danger, but his right hon. Friend abandoned that law, and said that his Bill would be effectual in obtaining registration and securities from all respectable periodicals, while non-respectable periodicals would escape. He should have thought that non-respectable periodicals alone were those upon which it was necessary to impose restrictions, and his right hon. Friend, therefore, in one sense included too little, and in another sense too much. The present law took no cognisance of periodicals, but an abusive practice had grown up whereby proprietors of periodicals, not being newspapers, declared them to be newspapers, in order to obtain postal privileges. That absurd anomaly—in some cases it might be called a falsehood—his right hon. Friend was going to adopt and to erect into a principle, by requiring that the proprietors of all periodicals which desired postal privileges, whether newspapers or not, whether they discussed public affairs or not, should register and give securities. He thought the House of Commons ought not to make regulations of that kind, in which it was impossible to trace a reason or a principle. His right hon. Friend's clause would include a vast number of periodicals to which the law of registration and security was never intended to apply; it would include those which it was not important to include, and not those which ought to be included. He was consequently unwilling to be the means of importing so irrational a proposition into the statute book, and should therefore vote against it.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he would not attempt to answer the right hon. Gentleman's objections to the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but he thought that the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Whiteside) was both rational and consistent. Let them see what was the principle involved in that Amendment, and what were the difficulties in the way of its application to practice. The press enjoyed a very great liberty and exercised a very great power; he did not grudge it that liberty and that power, but they had a right to exact from it the responsibility which ought to be the condition upon which all power should be exercised. Now, what was the proposition of his hon. and learned Friend? His hon and learned Friend proposed that the 1679 system of registration which at present partially existed, and which the Government proposed to maintain, should be general instead of partial in its application. That system of registration was connected with no vexatious conditions whatever. All it sought was that the persons who exercised the great power which must be vested in those who conducted the public press in this country should be responsible for the manner in which they exercised it, that society should know who were responsible for the opinions which the press expressed upon public questions, for the criticisms which it offered upon the conduct of public men, and that the power which influenced opinions should be brought to the bar of that opinion which it attempted to regulate. He supposed no gentleman could think such a proposition irrational, or not calculated to be beneficial to the country. But the right hon. Gentleman said that society, by the present law, had that means of redress to which it was entitled, as no publication could be produced unless the printer's name was affixed to it. Every one, however, knew very well that a publication might appear and exercise a great influence affecting the character of an individual, affecting even the course of events at a critical moment, which bore the name, as printer, of an individual who did not even exist. The required effect might be produced in a few hours, or in one hour, by a pamphlet or placard to which an imaginary name was attached, while those who were injured by it had no security or redress. The new law would require the registration of the name of the proprietor of a journal, not names of the authors of articles which appeared in it, nor that of a mere man of straw, but the name of a person whose station was such that redress might be obtained from him by those whom the journal might have injured. He therefore thought that the two right hon. Gentlemen (Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Gibson) had not made any sufficient objections to his hon. and learned Friend's proposal, which was founded upon a broad principle of justice and fairness, requiring that the public should have a simple mode of obtaining redress when they had received an injury. If the principle upon which the proposal was founded were right, was the application of it to practice difficult? He was not called upon in vindicating a principle immediately to find means by which it could be put into practice; but he did not think, judging from our past expe- 1680 rience, that the difficulties in the way of doing so were so great as the right hon. Gentleman had intimated. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Whiteside) had shown that by the present law the humblest proprietor or publisher could without any great trouble or vexation be made responsible to society. The proprietor and publisher had nothing to do but to make the local authority acquainted with his purpose, so that if he offended, society might have the redress to which it was entitled. He hoped the Committee would feel that his hon. and learned Friend's Amendment tended to secure the enjoyment of the liberty of the press.
§ MR. DRUMMOND
Sir, it is said that the Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Enniskillen will catch some newspapers that do not want to be caught, and others it is not wanted to catch. Sir, I know a newspaper which wanted to be caught. The right hon. Gentleman who has just resumed his seat has spoken of the "liberty of the press." That has been long spoken of. It has been said that it must be "free as the air we breathe; take it away, we die." But, Sir, what is "the liberty of the press?" It is the liberty of a certain number of persons to slander anonymously whomever they please, against whom you have no redress. It is freedom to the anonymous libeller, and slavery to all the rest. The only way to meet this is to prohibit any person from publishing anything anonymously, periodically, or otherwise. Sir, no honest man is ashamed of the sentiments he expresses. You talk in this country, more than in any other, of your "love of fair play," "meeting a man face to face, and a good standup fight," &c. Why, where is the fair play of these anonymous libellers? You have—you know it well—a fear of moral assassination. You long to punish the evil-doers, and you are afraid to do so. You know that the only way to do it effectually is to force them to give their names as they do in France. Two years ago it was very much the fashion of Gentlemen on this side to speak of France as a great model. Well, let us imitate France, at all events, in this respect. They have found out a way in France to prevent persons from publishing without putting their names to what they publish. And the law advisers of the Crown could, with a very little exercise of ingenuity, I apprehend, devise a way of securing the same object in this country. As it is, 1681 Sir, it is a mere moral Thugge, and I hope means will be found for suppressing this great moral nuisance.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, his belief was that the clause would be found practically to work without material inconvenience, and that all those newspapers whose circulation was considerable, and whose influence therefore was felt over a wide circuit of the country, would be drawn into it. He would admit, however, that the effect of the Bill as it was now drawn, while it removed the objection that a false declaration must be made, as now, by persons publishing circulars and periodicals of that kind, and who now enjoyed the benefit of the stamp by making what was, in fact, a false declaration that they published a newspaper —while that would be removed by the Bill as it now stood, at the same time it would introduce another anomaly, namely, that it would subject that class of publications to registration. He had no objection, after the opinions he had heard expressed, if the Committee should prefer it, to postpone the clause relating to registration and securities, and to attempt to limit them to newspapers. The effect of that would be to make this Bill conform more exactly to the object of the original Acts, to except periodical publications generally, and to retain the word "newspaper" in the Bill which it had been an object to omit, on account of the difficulty of putting a precise legal construction upon it. However, he believed, a legal construction could be put upon the word "newspaper," and if the Committee would go on with the remaining clauses, he would consider this clause, and endeavour to give it that effect.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he hoped in the year 1855, it would not be thought necessary for the safety of our institutions and of private character to put restraints upon the publication of opinion. Both with respect to suretyship and registration the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer might save himself trouble by enforcing the law as it now stood. The Act of Parliament was passed by the late Lord Castlereagh, and was called one of the Six Acts. The preamble stated that—Whereas many papers containing observations upon Public Acts tending to excite the hatred of the public to the constitution of this realm, and also vilifying our holy religion, have lately been published in great numbers, and at a very small price, and it is expedient that the same should be restrained.It then went on to enact that every person 1682 printing or publishing any newspaper or any pamphlet (let hon. Members of that House who wrote pamphlets, but who never gave any security, observe that), or other paper containing any public intelligence or occurrence, or any remarks or observations thereon, or upon any matter in Church or State, which should not exceed two sheets, that is 714 square inches, or should be published for sale at a less price than 6d. until lie had entered into a recognisance before a Baron of the Exchequer, and found two sufficient securities in 400l. in London, and 200l. in the country, to be answerable for any blasphemous or seditious libel, should be subject to a penalty of 20l. And by an Act of William IV. this was extended to private libel. It was under this Act of 60th Geo. III., c. 9., that securities were now taken, and not under the Newspaper Act; and therefore he appealed to the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he would not repeal the 60th Geo. III., c. 9. If he would not repeal it, he asked him, above all, as a Minister of the Crown, to do his duty, and to take care that Members of the Government did not violate the law themselves. There never was so flagrant a violation of that law as the letter of the noble Lord the Member for London, (Lord J. Russell) to the Bishop of Durham. That was a pamphlet which commented on matters of Church and State, and which was sold in great numbers at a small price, in respect of which no security had been given, and the publisher of which was liable under the 60th Geo. III. c. 9, to forfeit the sum of 20l. How large a sum did Lord John Russell owe, in respect of that publication, to the Queen at the present moment? Unless the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer enforced the law against Ids colleagues, it was only a clap-trap to call upon the House of Commons to re-enact a law already in existence. The extraordinary thing was this, that the late Government of which his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) was a Member, agreed to abolish these securities; and that the noble Lord the present Prime Minister was a Member of that Cabinet, and must therefore have agreed to abolish those securities. In point of fact, the majority of that Cabinet formed also a majority of the existing Cabinet; it was not, therefore, asking too much that they who a few weeks ago were willing to abolish registration and other securities should not now come forward and superfluously re-enact them. He had 1683 hoped that when a measure relating to the press of this country was entertained by the Government they would have had a Bill brought in based upon something like a general principle, and reviewing, as it were, the whole of the law concerning the press, so that the public might know what the law upon the press really was. The Bill which was introduced by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer did repeal Acts and parts of Acts which to a very considerable extent had grown obsolete; but by the present measure many of those Acts would remain unrepealed. He had mentioned one of them; he would now refer to another. He found an Act the preamble of which set forth that—Whereas a traitorous conspiracy had long been carried on by persons in this country in conjunction with persons abroad for the purpose of exciting the people and Government of France to overthrow the constitution and Government and everything both civil and ecclesiastical existing in Great Britain and Ireland, be it therefore enacted," &c.:and then followed seine most stringent provisions, for the purpose of putting the whole printing business of the country under the control of the Government; but scarcely in any respect had that Act been enforced, and yet the Government were afraid to repeal it. He must say one word on the absurdity of making the securities contingent upon the publication going through the post. George III., when he enacted securities, was at least rational, whatever might be said of his policy. But the plan now proposed was irrational and ridiculous. The Act of George III. sought for securities in obtaining a control over the printing and the publishing; for those, after all, were the things they had to guard against. It was the printing and the publishing of a libel, and not the mere act of putting it into the post, that should engage the attention of the Legislature. How absurd was it to say that if a man only paid 1d. —by a Queen's head, and not by the use of the ordinary newspaper stamp—he might have his libel, or his blasphemy and sedition, carried through the Post Office without giving any security whatever; for that would be the effect of your law. Could anything be more inconsistent with the dignity of Parliament than to be legislating in such a puerile manner? Let all these securities be abolished. They were not consistent with the principles of a free press. Trust to the common law to put down the libellers; but let not the right of any man to put his opinions on 1684 paper be restricted, whether he be wealthy or poor. What sort of law was that which said that a man worth 400l. should be at liberty to express his opinion respecting affairs of Church and State, but that a poor man should not be at liberty to give any opinion on public affairs? It appeared to him that so long as there existed a law requiring a property qualification for the expression of opinions, or for the recital of facts on paper, they could not hold out to the world that the people of this country were in the enjoyment of a free press. They talked, indeed, about abolishing a property qualification for Members of Parliament, and for the holders of various offices, but they were afraid to abolish the qualification which entitled a man to express his opinions on paper. He hoped that, while professing a wish to uphold the freedom of the press and to diffuse knowledge among the people, Parliament would not aid in carrying out such an odious class measure as that which said that none but the upper classes of this country should be at liberty to publish a newspaper, a periodical publication, or a pamphlet for the expression of their opinions on public affairs and public men.
§ MR. F. SCOTT
said, he hoped that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, while he took time to consider the amendment proposed, would not be guided by the remarks which had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down. He confessed that, notwithstanding what the right hon. Gentleman had said about the year 1855 being somewhat too late a period to enter upon the question of securities in connection with the press, it did not appear at all too late to him. He believed that the press would consult its own liberty and its own dignity if it encouraged any act of legislation which should require the registration of the names of those persons who were really responsible for that which was inserted in the journals. There was nothing more objectionable than that a party should be brought forward to be prosecuted for a libel in the press who was not the party really guilty either of writing or of publishing that libel. He thought it would be very much more for the dignity of the press, as well as for the interest of the public, that those who were really responsible should be those whose names should be required by law to be registered.
§ SIR FREDERIC THESIGER
said, he understood that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer bad said that 1685 he saw no objection to consider the amendment proposed, but, as there were many important matters which required consideration in reference to these clauses, it was desirable they should be postponed in order to afford his right hon. Friend an opportunity to see whether he could frame them in such a way as would secure to them the approbation of the House. He merely rose for the purpose of suggesting that, as the clauses to which the amendment related were to be postponed, the Committee had better pass on to the other clauses of the Bill.
§ Amendment withdrawn. Clause postponed.
§ Clauses 5 to 7 inclusive were also postponed.
§ Clause 8 to 13 inclusive agreed to.
§ On the question that the Chairman report progress.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, he wished to know what was expected to be the loss to the revenue in case this Bill should pass? He made out that the stamp duty on newspapers produced at present about 470,000l. per annum; now deducting from that amount the probable postal expellees, he should like to have an estimate as to the balance likely to remain to the revenue after the passing of this measure.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that as the stamp in future would not be compulsory, but voluntary, all estimates with reference to the revenue derivable under the new law were necessarily uncertain. He had stated, however, on Friday night, that the opinion of the Government was that the loss to the revenue if the measure should become law, would be about 200,000l.
§ MR. DISRAELI
saw that a notice had been given on the part of the Government of certain clauses of a most important character, namely, in reference to newspaper copyright. Now those clauses had not as yet been brought up, neither had any statement been made respecting them by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He wished, therefore, to know whether it was intended to proceed with them?
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I have the clause with me, and if it be the wish of the Committee I am now prepared to move it. I thought, however, that as some of the clauses have been postponed it might not now be convenient to propose a new clause.
§ MR. BARROW
said, he had understood that the present Bill was not to involve 1686 any pains and penalties, but in one of the clauses, referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) there were pains and penalties imposed, and he hoped that that clause would either not be proposed at all, or, if proposed, that full time would be given for its consideration. He thought the practice of printing a clause in this manner to be delivered to Members after they came into the house without an opportunity being afforded to the public at large of seeing it, was inconvenient, and he trusted the Chancellor of the Exchequer would not tarnish his fair fame by adopting a practice that was unfair to the public at large.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, it was quite true the clause did contain a penalty, but that penalty was not to be recovered by the Attorney General, but by the proprietor of a newspaper, for the piracy of any matter contained in his newspaper, and that was a matter for the Committee hereafter to consider. With reference to the observation of the hon. Member (Mr. Barrow) it was his belief that the practice adopted by him was of constant occurrence in that House, and that there was nothing unusual, unprecedented, or exceptional in it. He had given notice of the clause three or four days ago; hon. Members had had an opportunity to consider it, and it had also received circulation amongst the public.
§ MR. BARROW
said, that he did not receive the clause with his Votes, and he did not know any Member who had so received it.
§ MR. BRIGHT
said, he wished to know from the right hon. Gentleman when he intended to go into Committee again on this Bill? There were some hundreds of persons in a state of agony with regard to the Bill. The proprietors of existing newspapers did not know where they would be next week, and there were other newspapers struggling into life. Great expenses were incurred, and a most important branch of industry would be paralyzed until this Bill should be disposed of.
§ House resumed.