§ Order for Committee read.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Sir, I am come down to the House prepared to introduce the Resolutions with regard to newspaper stamps; but although the statement of the views of Her Majesty's Government may be made on the Resolutions, yet as the Bill which I shall ask permission of the House to introduce is not yet in the hands of hon. Members, it will be perhaps inconvenient to enter into a debate upon the question at present; if, however, it be the wish of the House there should be a debate, I would reserve my statement till the second reading. If, on the other hand, the House is willing to listen to my statement and to postpone the debate until the second read- 775 ing I shall be happy to make that statement now.
§ MR. DISRAELI
I think, Sir, that it would be very convenient that the House should be favoured with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, because there is considerable obscurity as to the exact meaning of the Resolutions.
§ House in Committee.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
Mr. Bouverie, in the year 1851 a Select Committee was appointed, upon the Motion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. Milner Gibson), to inquire into the question of newspaper stamps. That Committee examined many witnesses, they investigated the entire subject in considerable detail; and they embodied the result of their inquiry in a Report, which concludes with the following passage—In conclusion, your Committee consider it their duty to direct attention to the objections and abuses incident to the present system of newspaper stamps, arising from the difficulty of defining and determining the meaning of the term 'news;' to the inequalities which exist in the application of the Newspaper Stamp Act, and the anomalies and evasions that it occasions in postal arrangements; to the unfair competition to which stamped newspapers are exposed with unstamped publications; to the limitation imposed newspapers; and to the impediments which it throws in the way of the diffusion of useful knowledge regarding current and recent events among the poorer classes, which species of knowledge, relating to subjects which most obviously interest them, calls out the intelligence by awakening the curiosity of those classes.They then proceed to say—How far it may be expedient that this tax should be maintained as a source of revenue, either in its present or in any modified form, your Committee do not feel themselves called upon to state; other considerations, not within their province, would enter into that question. But, apart from fiscal considerations, they do not consider that news is of itself a desirable subject of taxation.My right hon. Friend followed up the subject in subsequent Sessions; and in the last Session he brought forward a Resolution, which, after a debate, was carried by the unanimous vote of this House. That Resolution was in the following terms—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.This Resolution having been unanimously agreed to by the House last Session, the 776 question naturally came under the consideration of Lord Aberdeen's Government during the recess, and the subject fell necessarily within the province of my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford. The plan which he submitted to the consideration of the Government is now before the House. It involves, substantially, the abolition of the newspaper stamp as a compulsory stamp. The reasons which pressed upon Lord Aberdeen's Government at that time were partly the unanimous resolution of the House of Commons during the last Session, and partly the anomalous state of the law which had grown up of late years under the administration of the Board of Inland Revenue. That anomalous state of the law, which was fully investigated by the Committee of 1851, grew out of relaxations which had been introduced for the purpose of meeting the views of a species of periodical publications which are now known by the denomination of class news papers. The first case, as I understand, in which a relaxation was admitted, was that of the Literary Gazette, a paper which merely contained critical notices—mere reviews—and was not a newspaper within the strict meaning of the act. It by the stamp upon the circulation of the best was found, however, by the managers of The Chancellor of the Exchequer that periodical that it would be convenient that a portion of its circulation should enjoy the privilege of the stamp, in order that it might be transmitted through the post-office. Accordingly, a few lines of political news were introduced in order to qualify it for the newspaper stamp. In that manner the principle was introduced of partly stamped and partly unstamped publications. That principle was afterwards extended to a large number of periodical publications relating to subjects which interested particular classes—such, for instance, as the members of different professions. There were publications relating to law, to medicine, to architecture, to horticulture, and to various other subjects; and in all those cases the rule was established that they should not be considered as newspapers subject to the compulsory tax, but that a portion of the impression might be stamped for the convenience of transmission through the post-office. After a time, a portion of those periodical publications introduced news in the proper sense of the word. It was not political news, but it was literary news, or it related to legal, medical, or other professions; and there can be no doubt that, according to the strict con- 777 struction of the law, a large number of the class publications which enjoyed a partial immunity from the stamp were newspapers within the meaning of the law, and were liable to a penalty if any portion of their impression were unstamped. The relaxation had, however, been established; and this was the state of practice which my right hon. Friend found in existence during the last recess, when the subject came under his consideration.
If the Government had decided to disregard the unanimous resolution of the House, and to attempt to enforce the law strictly against these class publications, in order to make its administration uniform instead of anomalous, they must have directed numerous prosecutions to have been instituted against this class of newspapers, or they must have come to Parliament for a Bill to render the existing law more stringent and severe. My right hon. Friend decided—and, in my opinion, he exercised a very wise discretion—not to attempt to render the law more stringent, but to relax it, and, at the same time, to make it uniform. The plan which I am about to submit to the Committee is identical in substance and principle with that of my right hon. Friend. The details are not identical, but the plan is founded upon the self-same principles; and whatever credit may belong to it will be due to him, and not to me. The Bill which I shall ask permission of the House to lay upon the table, if these Resolutions shall be agreed to, is based upon the following principle—to abolish the legal definition of a newspaper, and to extend the existing rules respecting newspapers to all printed periodical publications which appear at intervals not greater than thirty-one days. In the case of all periodicals falling within that definition, the present penalty for the publication of any newspaper without a stamp will be repealed, and it will be optional with the proprietors of any such periodical either to stamp any portion of their publication, or to leave it altogether unstamped. If they come to the Stamp-office and apply for stamped sheets upon which to print any portion of their impression, they will be subjected, in respect to the sheets so stamped, to precisely the same rules with respect to superficial contents as existing newspapers are subject to. That is to say, that the first sheet may contain 2,295 superficial square inches covered by a ld. stamp, and the second sheet may contain 1,148 square inches, covered by a 778 stamp of one halfpenny. In this respect I propose to make no alteration, but simply to extend the present limit of superficial contents to all periodical publications which shall appear within intervals of thirty-one days. With regard to all periodical publications which shall stamp any portion of their impression, I propose that they shall be subjected to the present rules respecting registration and sureties. Those rules are to the following effect:—Any person now desirous of publishing a newspaper makes a declaration at the Stamp-office, and he furnishes a copy of every number of his publication, which is registered at the Stamp-office; and the production of it is at all times evidence of publication against the printer and publisher of that newspaper. I propose that the proprietor of any periodical who shall be desirous of stamping any portion of his impression shall be subject to that rule. With respect to the securities, every newspaper proprietor is at present bound in his own recognisance, and is obliged also to produce two sureties in London to the extent of 400l., and in the country to the extent of 300l., to answer any civil action or criminal prosecution which may be brought against him for libel. These are provisions in the existing law which I propose to retain with regard to all newspaper proprietors who shall stamp any portion of their publication. I will now state to the Committee the reasons why I propose to retain these provisions. It has for some time been the policy of this country to make newspapers, as distinguished from pamphlets and other publications which are not periodical, the subject of exceptional and separate legislation with regard to securities against the publisher in civil actions or criminal prosecutions for libel. The law with regard to those securities has been amended more than once, and with respect to that subject the policy of the country may be considered settled. It appears to me that this policy can be justified by sound argument, and that there is an essential difference between newspapers and pamphlets with regard to the subject of libel. A newspaper—that is, one of the periodical publications to which that name is generally applied—has an established circulation, which is immediate and to a great extent universal. It extends over the whole country, and is also nearly simultaneous, for, by means of the post, it is carried on the day of publication to 779 almost all parts of the kingdom; the consequence of this is, that libellous matter published in a newspaper affecting any individual exercises a much more instantaneous and a much more detrimental influence upon his character than would be the case if such matter were published in a simple pamphlet. There are, no doubt, Gentlemen in this House who have had some experience in the publication of pamphlets, and who know the difficulty with which a pamphlet struggles into notoriety. A few copies are generally first distributed voluntarily, and attempts are made to gain publicity for the work, but those attempts are generally not very successful, and the publicity, if obtained at all, is slow of arrival, and very limited and partial in extent. Now, with regard to a newspaper, these conditions are reversed, for the publicity is immediate, simultaneous, and practically universal. For these reasons it appears to me to be wise and expedient that, with regard to newspapers, securities should be imposed which are not applicable to other parts of the press; and, therefore, I propose to retain the regulations with regard to sureties. But there is an-other reason. By the original act which established these sureties they were limited to actions for blasphemous or seditious libels, and the measure was introduced as a protection to the Government. It was found, however, that these were valuable securities which might be extended to the public; and accordingly, by a subsequent Act, actions for libels on private individuals were brought within the same provisions; and the consequence is, that any private person is at the present day protected against libel by the proprietor of a newspaper being compelled to enter into his own recognisances, and also to find sureties to answer actions for libel brought against him. If, therefore, the provisions to which I have adverted were repealed, not only would the security which at present exists for the preservation of good order—whatever its value may be—be removed, but also a most valuable and effective security for the respect of private character would be taken away. For these reasons, then, I propose to retain the existing provisions on that subject in the Bill which I shall have the honour of submitting to the House, so far as regards all periodicals which, by publishing a portion of their impression stamped, may bring themselves within the provisions of the Bill. I may state, however, that the provisions 780 with regard to sureties do not form any essential or necessary part of the plan which I propose, and as far as I am officially concerned, they will not in any way affect the interests of the public exchequer; but they rather form part of the criminal and civil law now existing: and, as they appear to me to be founded upon sound policy, I have included them in the measure which I hope to introduce into this House.
Now, Sir, I have stated in general terms the nature and effect of the plan which I propose. The effect will be to legalise generally what at present is only tacitly sanctioned with respect to the publication of class publications, such as the Athenœum, the Builder, the Medical Times, the Medical Gazette, and others of that description. Such papers will be admitted by law to the same indulgence which they now possess, and will be authorised to follow the method of publication which they now frequently practise in defiance of, or at least unsanctioned by., the law; that is, their proprietors will be permitted to publish their impression on a stamp or not, as they may think fit. The same legislation will be further extended to the rest of the periodical press. The political newspapers, such as The Times, The Morning Chronicle, The Herald, The Morning Advertiser, and others, will be subject to the same rule, and be permitted to stamp that portion of their impression which they may wish to transmit by post, and to publish that portion which is independent of transmission by the post without a stamp—just as they may find it for their interest to do. Beyond these changes I do not propose to go. The Bill which I propose to introduce will be confined to the change to which I have referred.
And now, with the permission of the House, I will proceed to examine certain objections which have been made to this plan, and which have been represented as fatal to its operation. One of these objections is, that it will produce great confusion in the printing establishments if a portion of the impression of a paper has to be printed on stamped and the other portion on unstamped paper, and that the consequence of that confusion would be a loss to the proprietors of newspapers. Now, Sir, I have used my best endeavours to ascertain, as far as I could, if there is any foundation for that statement, and I will inform the House of the results of my inquiry. It appears from a return which has been laid before this House on 781 the Motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster (Sir J. Shelley) that the number of what may be called class papers amounts to 137, and the business of all of them is conducted by a mixed circulation of stamped and unstamped copies, and as no complaint has ever been made in the case of those publications, which may be called quasi-newspapers, the presumption appears to me to be that there is no real practical difficulty in printing and publishing the mixed circulation of stamped and unstamped copies we propose. One of the principal periodicals which publishes a portion of their impression stamped, and the remainder unstamped, is that publication so familiarly known to all the Members of this House— I mean Punch. in the year 1854, 425,000 stamped copies of that periodical were published; and I understand that, out of a weekly circulation of about 40,000 copies, 8,000 are published on stamped paper, and 32,000 are unstamped. I have had an interview with the manager of that publication—not to make inquiry as to how his interesting publication is compiled, but to obtain some information as to the economical branch of the establishment. That gentleman told me that there was not the least difficulty with regard to the printing of the paper, and that the mixed nature of the circulation did not give rise to the slightest confusion, nor was there any loss to the proprietors in consequence of it; and he describes the difficulty which had been represented to me to exist as perfectly imaginary. I made further inquiry of the manager of the Athenœm, a paper which is also printed, partly on stamped, and partly on unstamped paper, and I found that 3,000 copies of that paper are printed on stamps, and 4,200 are published unstamped; and the gentlemen connected with that paper told me that there was no practical difficulty or loss in conducting that paper with the mixed circulation, although the demand for stamped copies was affected by various circumstances—such as the absence from London in the summer of persons usually resident there when there exists a much greater demand for stamped copies to be sent by post than at other periods of the year; yet those temporary variations are easily adjusted, and neither confusion nor loss occurs. I further consulted the proprieter of the Illustrated London News, a gentleman of great experience in the management of newspapers, and who has brought the circulation or that 782 paper up to 140,000 a week; and that gentleman gave me his confident opinion that no difficulty would arise in the case of his paper, or in that of any daily paper, from the adoption of a mixed system of stamped and unstamped impressions.
But, Sir, another objection, and that of a more serious character, has been brought under my notice by various persons, who have described the proposition to repeal the compulsory newspaper stamp as one which would be most dangerous to society. It has been described as a measure which will open the floodgates of sedition and blasphemy, and which will inundate the country with licentious and immoral productions, which will undermine the very foundations of society, and scatter the seeds of revolution broadcast over the land. These expressions are not exaggerated representations of the opinions which have been communicated to me from many quarters since this measure has been under my consideration. I regret to say that my right hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford is looked upon as an accomplice of the Government in this wicked and dangerous design. I need not state that, if Her Majesty's Government believed that there was any foundation for these views, or for any appreciable fractional part of these views, they would not propose the measure which I am now submitting to the consideration of the Committee. They have the greatest confidence in the stability of our political institutions, in the soundness of our social system, in the loyalty and good disposition of the great body of the people; and they do not believe that increased facilities for public discussion through the press will lead to any such consequences as some have apprehended. But, Sir, we are not left merely to conjecture, or indirect evidence, with respect, to the conduct and character of a cheap unstamped press. There is already in existence a large class of publications which, not containing news, are exempt from the stamp, are printed at a very cheap race, and circulate most extensively through the country. Now, though these publications do not contain news, yet, if it were true that the people of this country have so insatiable an appetite for immoral and licentious reading as some seem to ascribe to them, they would possess a very different character from what they actually exhibit. I beg to call the attention of the Committee to the names of some of these publications. There is the Illustrated 783 News, which is sold for 6d., and circulates no less than 140,000 copies per week, and although it is published only hebdomadally, I think it is second, or nearly second, in point of circulation to The Times. The Illustrated News is so very well known a publication that I need scarcely say its contents are perfectly unexceptionable, and that it obtains a willing admission to every family in the kingdom. But there are other periodicals that are unstamped which are sold at a lower price, and which circulate widely among the poorer classes. One of these is a periodical of which I confess that I never heard the name until recently, and perhaps the same may be the case of some other Members of this House; I mean a penny weekly publication called the London Journal, and which, I am assured by very sufficient evidence, circulates 510,000, or more than half a million copies, per week, or equal to 26,520,000 per annum—a circulation, exceeding by 10,000,000 that of The Times, though it appears only once a week, whereas The Times is published six times in the week. I have examined certain numbers of this periodical, and find that it somewhat resembles the Penny Magazine, which was well known several years ago. The London Journal appears to be unexceptionable in point of morality; its matter may not, indeed, be of the most instructive character—it is in fact, rather amusing than instructive—but certainly, it does not at all correspond with the very frightful picture of cheap periodicals which has been drawn to us by the objectors to the repeal of the compulsory stamp. There is another publication, similar in its character—the Family Herald—which circulates about 240,000 weekly, or at the rate of 12,500,000 per annum. It is also somewhat analogous to the Penny Magazine, which is now extinct, and which at one time had a circulation of about 200,000 copies per week. These facts must be considered as showing that the spontaneous taste of the poorer classes of readers in this country, as regards cheap unstamped periodicals at the present moment, leads them to prefer a species of literature wholly innocuous in its character, and quite free from all the dangerous elements which have been held up to our fears. Now, let us look to the reverse of the picture. Some years ago, I am informed, there were five or six publications in London of a different description from 784 the foregoing. Among them were the Town, and others of a similarly licentious character. The illustrations they contained corresponded with their letterpress, and these publications obtained a certain circulation. But a gentleman who made an inquiry into this subject a few years since, and who recently completed his inquiry, assures me that the entire class of publications of this nature is now extinct; that out of five or six which he noticed a few years ago not one now remains in existence. It will be in the recollection of the House that there was likewise a higher class of publications of the same character as those to which I am now referring, comprising the Age, the Satirist, and the Argus, which enjoyed a considerable circulation some few years since, but they have now also ceased to exist. It may, I believe, be said with perfect truth, that no immoral or licentious publication has a long life, or obtains an extensive circulation. Another objection made to the proposed change is, that there would be one press for the rich and another for the poor; that there would be one description of newspapers intended for wealthy readers and for the upper classes of society, and another description of cheap newspaper designed for circulation among the working classes. Now, to a certain extent, that state of things already exists. There are newspapers now enjoying a very wide circulation which are printed at a cheaper rate than the ordinary daily and weekly papers, and whose principal circulation lies among the less wealthy classes of the people. Two of these journals are called The News of the World and Lloyd's Weekly Newspaper, and they have the largest circulation after The Times. This extensive circulation they owe to the fact that their price is 3d., instead of 5d. or 6d.—the preference they enjoy in the newspaper market being solely attributable to the lower rate at which they are sold. But even if two kinds of newspapers should be established to a certain extent, it may be doubted whether there will be any reason for regretting it. If the taste of the poorer classes of readers prevents them from enjoying and perusing those newspapers which are prepared for a different class of readers if a class of newspapers grows up which is intended to meet the wants of the working classes—and if those newspapers are moral and useful in their tendency, it may be regarded as an advantage that they should circulate among that por- 785 tion of society. We are not to assume that the class of newspapers which may be addressed to the working people will be tainted with any immoral or anti-social doctrines; and at all events those persons who devote themselves to the moral, religious, and intellectual improvement of the people, and to the diffusion of sound opinions among them, will here find a field for their philanthropic exertions, and will be able to counteract any mischievous or anarchical principles which may be disseminated through channels of this description. The present necessity of imposing a stamp on every copy of a local newspaper is frequently attended with detrimental effects; and, in illustration of the mischief and injustice occasionally produced by the existing law, I will take the liberty of quoting an extract from a letter published by the noble Lord the Member for Lynn (Lord Stanley) relating to this subject. He says—I have by me a small advertising sheet which appears in a neighbouring town (to save the law) monthly; and which, but for the operation of the law, would probably appear fortnightly, if not weekly. Its weight, to judge by the quantity of paper which it contains, does not exceed 1–20th that of The Times when the latter appears with its full 16 pages of print. The little local journal to which I have referred does not want the Post Office at all. If living in a town, I wish to send out 1,000 copies of a circular, I should certainly find it cheaper and more convenient to hire a messenger to distribute them than to pay 4l. 3s. 4d. for their circulation by the local post. In this case Government allows me the option. But if I issue a weekly or fortnightly circular, in the shape of a newspaper, I have no similar freedom of choice. Whether I use the postal arrangements which Government has provided, or dispense with them, is immaterial to the State; but in either case I must pay equally.Now, under the regulations which I propose, it will be optional for the publisher of any local journal, such as the noble Lord has described, to stamp one portion of his impression, and to leave unstamped such copies as he may wish to circulate by messenger. Thus, if it is any convenience to him to stamp any portion in order that it may pass through the post, it will be perfectly competent for him to do so. At the same time, having shown that the publication of local newspapers will be greatly facilitated by the removal of the stamp, I must express a doubt whether any considerable number of such new newspapers will spring into existence. No newspaper can obtain any considerable circulation unless it be a good medium for advertisements. It is by the advertisements that 786 the large and well-conducted newspapers are maintained, and it is out of the profits of advertisements that the deficiency in the expenditure of these newspapers is supported. Now, Sir, small local newspapers are never a profitable vehicle for advertisements, and, therefore, such a newspaper can never become, in the proper sense of the term, a good newspaper. The established provincial newspapers, having large capital and extensive circulation, are already in possession of the market, and, having a wide field now open before them, and enjoying the preference of the advertising public, they will enter into competition with small local newspapers on the most advantageous terms. And I confess I think that the advent of the newspaper Utopia which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Manchester (Mr. Milner Gibson) anticipates, as soon as the stamp is taken off, is yet far distant. I do not expect that a great number of new newspapers will be established if the stamp duty is removed, but, at the same time, if any such demand for a new class of newspapers should exist, the reality of that demand will be tested by the facilities for their establishment which the change in the law will bring.
Another objection to the measure—an objection which has been mentioned in the other House, and which must have occurred to my right hon. Friend my predecessor in office, as it occurred to myself—is the loss of revenue which will be entailed by the proposed changes. Now, Sir, if we had at this time a surplus revenue, and if the expenditure of the country did not greatly exceed its ordinary revenue, the newspaper stamp would have a fair claim to be considered in any plan for repeal or readjustment of taxes, and those who object to it might claim that its repeal should have precedence in any financial scheme. This, however, is not the present financial state of the country, and, if the House should decide in favour of this measure, it would be my duty to call upon them to provide for the deficiency of the revenue which might thereby be occasioned by some other mode of taxation. The present stamp duty on newspapers produces to the revenue rather more than 400,000l. a year, and it is estimated that a measure for repealing the compulsory stamp will entail a loss of 200,000l. per annum. At the same time, there are some facts which may lead to the inference that, after the 787 compulsory stamp shall be repealed, the newspapers will continue to print a considerable portion of their impression upon stamped paper. I will, with the permission of the House, state some facts relative to The Times newspaper, which will throw some light on this part of the question. The circulation of The Times is 59,000 per diem; of these, 33,000 are distributed by news-agents in London, and 26,000 go into the country, of which about 22,000 are conveyed by railway trains, and 5,800 by post. About three-fourths of the copies of The Times—and of this I am assured by excellent authority—ultimately pass through the post, most copies three or four times. Although the number of copies which leave London and are distributed by the newsagents is so large, yet I am assured that, altogether, at least three-fourths of the entire impression of The Times ultimately pass through the post. Such is the convenience of the postage stamp. I have been further assured by a deputation of provincial newspaper proprietors that about two-thirds of the country papers are sent directly through the post, and that about half the remaining third are afterwards sent, making altogether about five-sixths which pass through the post. These facts lead to the inference that the present stamp is found to be a convenience in the transmission of newspapers, and that, even if it ceased to be a compulsory stamp, a large circulation of stamped newspapers would, nevertheless, take place. Moreover, if the alteration of the law should lead to a large increase in the number of newspapers, the addition in the circulation would produce such an increase in the paper duty as would in some degree compensate for the loss of revenue in the stamped circulation of newspapers. It is my duty to inform the House that the estimate of persons of authority as to the loss of revenue must not be taken to be less than 200,000l. Such a loss of revenue is, no doubt, inconvenient at the present moment. On the other hand, the House will bear in mind that to refuse to repeal the stamp would be to recede from the unanimous resolution which it agreed to last Session, and will render necessary the passing of some measure declaratory of the law. Indulgences must be withdrawn, and the House must consent to the adoption of stringent measures for collecting the newspaper stamp.
I have heard it argued, and it has been 788 suggested to me since the Resolutions have been laid upon the table, that the plan would be more perfect if it included all sorts of printed matter, and not merely periodical publications. That proposition, Sir, involves the question of a cheap book post. At the present time there is a cheap book post, and the payment of 6d. will enable a book of not more than 1 lb. to be carried by the post. That system has been established by a succession of Treasury warrants, and it is competent for the Lords of the Treasury to vary and modify the existing system, and to bring the present charges to lower rates than exist at present. Her Majesty's Government think that the question of periodical publications and their transmission through the post stands upon different grounds from the question of books and pamphlets, and that it ought to be kept separate. I admit, however, the importance of legislating with respect to the transmission of books and pamphlets by post, and, if it should meet with the approval of the House, I shall be ready to take that question into consideration hereafter, as a separate measure. I may, however, state one fact for the information of hon. Members, that, according to information given before a Committee which sat last Session upon postal communication, the following appears to be the comparative weight of the different class of articles carried by the post;—Out of 100 parts, letters formed 13 per cent; books, 2 per cent; newspapers, 76 per cent; and the mailbags as much as 9 per cent. So that, judging by weight, newspapers now form by far the largest portion of the articles conveyed by post. The books only form 2 per cent; and therefore, if anything like equality and correspondence is to be established between books and newspapers, some new regulations must be hereafter established with regard to books and pamphlets.
Having thus explained the intentions of the Government relative to the newspaper stamp, I beg leave now to move the following Resolutions—That it is expedient to amend the Laws relating to the Stamp Duties on Newspapers, and to provide for the transmission by Post of printed periodical publications.That any periodical publication, to be entitled to the privilege of transmission and retransmission by the Post, shall be printed on paper stamped for denoting the Stamp Duty imposed by Law on a Newspaper, printed on the like number of sheets or pieces of paper, and of the 789 like dimensions, with respect to the superficics, of the letterpress thereof.That printed Newspapers (British, Colonial, or Foreign) shall be transmitted by Post between places in the United Kingdom and Her Majesty's Colonies, or Foreign Countries, or between any ports or places beyond the Sea (whether through the United Kingdom or not), either free of Postage, or subject to such rates of Postage, not exceeding 2d. for each Newspaper, irrespective of any charge for Foreign Postage, as the Commissioners of the Treasury, or Her Majesty's Postmaster General, with their consent, shall from time to time think fit.
Sir, I have listened with great interest to the very elaborate statement of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I entirely agree with him in the opinion he seems to entertain, that it would be better that the Bill should be printed and laid before the House, and that there should be some brief opportunity at least of giving it consideration before we enter into any full discussion of its merits, or into any comparison between the particular provisions of my right hon. Friend's measure and of that which I had the honour of introducing. Parental partiality, probably, renders me an unfair judge on this subject, but I cannot deny that I regard with regret the changes which my right hon. Friend has introduced into the plan as originally framed. At the same time, in considering a measure of this kind, I think it is our duty, as Members of this House, to ask ourselves, not so much whether the measure that is proposed is in all respects conformable to our own wishes and predilections, or even whether it is the best that in our opinion could be submitted to Parliament, but whether, upon the whole, it goes so far in avoiding all existing difficulties of a serious and pressing character, and in introducing material and substantial improvements in the law, as to make it worth our while to recommend and promote its adoption by the Legislature. That is the principle upon which I desire to consider this Bill of my right hon. Friend's when it shall have been laid upon the table. There are, however, one or two points in the measure proposed by my right hon. Friend upon which I wish to say a word. I confess I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend signify, towards the close of his speech, that he was not indisposed to give a favourable consideration to the proposal, provided it appeared to be in accordance with the wishes of the House, to introduce into his Bill, not a qualification or alteration of the measure, but Simply an 790 extension of it, which would establish a moderate and low tariff for printed matter in general. I certainly think that such a regulation would be a most valuable addition to the Bill, and would in no respect interfere with the principle which my right hon. Friend proposes to establish. I can conceive no reason whatever why newspapers or periodicals published within thirty-one days should enjoy privileges that are denied to the feebler means and resources of those who may occasionally, or under particular circumstances, wish to give the public the benefit of their thoughts in print. With respect to one serious portion of this question to which my right hon. Friend adverted—namely, the effect of his measure upon the revenue—I would remind him that the introduction of a low and moderate postage tariff for printed matter of all descriptions would materially tend towards indemnifying him for the loss he is likely to sustain by the abolition of the compulsory stamp. I have no scruple in adverting to this point, and I may remind the House that, although the present tariff for the transport of books by post is not immoderate when it is applied to the case of what may fairly be called books—I mean works of considerable bulk, such, for instance, as the Quarterly or Edinburgh Review, which approach the weight of a pound—yet, so far as pamphlets are concerned, it is little less than a prohibitory duty. Indeed, it would very commonly better answer the purpose of those who wish to circulate pamphlets through the post to send them as letters, subject to the letter postage, than to avail themselves of the existing tariff for the transmission of books by post. I think, therefore, there is every necessity for an alteration in this respect. With regard to my right hon. Friend's definition of periodicals, I do not intend to enter into that part of the question at present, but, if I understand his resolutions rightly, it appears to me that the only periodicals which would be able to avail themselves of his proposition would be periodicals that conform, in a certain degree, to the arrangements of newspapers, and particularly periodicals that are limited to a couple of sheets. I must confess I apprehend that this regulation will be found materially to limit the beneficial effect of my right hon. Friend's measure, and, if so, it will be an additional argument for his adopting the proposal that greatly increased facilities should be given for the circulation of printed matter of all 791 descriptions whatsoever, whether periodicals or otherwise, by post. The next point I wish to mention is one to which I advert with greater unwillingness, but upon which I differ from the views of my right hon. Friend. He has announced his intention to propose that the use of the impressed stamp, which is to convey the postal privilege, shall be conditional upon a registration that is to entail the necessity of giving of securities. Now, it is quite true that at the present moment we have a law of this kind in operation. It is quite true that if a tradesman at the present time carries his circular to the Board of Inland Revenue he obtains the postal privilege on the condition of his declaring his circular to be a newspaper, although, if the Board of Inland Revenue were afterwards to prosecute him for not stamping his entire impression, he would be entitled to go into a Court of Justice and there to contend that that was not a newspaper which he himself had declared to be a newspaper in order to obtain the postal privilege for part of his impression. Now, the declaration thus made undoubtedly entails upon him the condition of giving securities; and at present, if a tradesman thinks he can supply his customers and the public with any given article upon such terms that it is worth while to advertise his prices from time to time, and if his ambition has so wide a range that he wishes to make them known, not only in the place where he may live, but throughout the country, it is necessary for him to register his circular or advertisement sheet, or whatever it may be, as a newspaper, and to give security that he will not print therein any blasphemous or seditious libles. Undoubtedly this is the practice under the law as it stands; but I must confess my belief always has been that this was one of the anomalies and absurdities of the practice which induced the House during the last year to do what it is not very apt to do, and what I think it most wisely eschews doing—namely, to pass an abstract Resolution to the effect that the law ought to be altered. My right hon. Friend proposes that this condition of giving securities shall be retained, but that it shall be retained not as a condition of publishing a newspaper, but as a condition of the postal privilege. But, is it possible for this House to embody permanently in one law a regulation founded upon such a basis? It is perfectly intelligible if a man tells me that securities ought to be given by those who publish 792 newspapers. There certainly may be differences of opinion upon that subject, some parties may think that these securities are highly important for the protection of public order or of private character. I confess that I am not of that opinion. My belief is, that securities have this effect—they provide that if the man who has given them commits an offence against the law, and the party whom he has wronged proceeds against him in a Court of Justice, the man who has committed the wrong shall have the means of paying counsel and attorneys to defend him. This I believe to be the first effect of these securities. That is a question of policy, but what question of policy, or what intelligible object or motive can be connected with the retention of securities as a condition of postal transmission? Why, if these securities are important at all, they are important as a protection, not to public men, not to Ministers of the Crown, or to members of this House, but to the private characters of individuals. Now, where is it important to defend private character? Why, within the particular sphere where each man is known; but if you are to say to a clergyman in Devonshire, "we will take care you shall not be libelled in Northumberland, where the people know nothing about you, but you may be libelled ad libitum by the newspapers published in your own town—we will allow you to be libelled in that part of the country where it is material that you should have your character defended, but we will prevent you from being libelled in a part of the country with which yon have no connection or concern"—it is plain that you place your law upon an irrational basis, and my right hon. Friend will run great risk of not attaining the object he has in view, namely, that of effecting a complete and final settlement of this long-vexed question. There is another point which is not a matter of indifference to me, namely, the question of copyright, for the protection of literary property in newspapers. I do not wonder, so far as we know any thing of the plan of my right hon. Friend from his explanation to-night, that he has not included in his Bill any clauses upon this subject. I think, indeed, it is a matter with reference to which it would be very difficult to devise a plan. At the same time I am under the impression that the proprietors of newspapers, in many cases, entertain great anxiety that the provisions of the law with respect to the protection of literary pro- 793 perty should undergo special consideration, and should, if practicable, receive some extension with a view to the protection of literary property in newspapers. Undoubtedly, so far as the article that is most strictly called "news" is concerned, for instance, the communication of facts, which may generally be comprised within a very brief space, and the language, the outward shape and form of which can be varied almost at will, I do not know how you are to introduce any further provisions than the law at present contains; but I have understood from some persons who ought to be well informed on the subject, that the great anxiety of those who think this question worth consideration in the press as it stands, is not so much directed to the protection of their "news," strictly so called, which, in point of fact, it would be very difficult to protect, as to the protection of what may more fairly be called their literary composition—for example, the leading articles in their newspapers, and, especially as regards the London press, the communications of their foreign correspondents. Now I, for one, am very anxious that, either in the plan of my right hon. Friend, or in some other effective form, this question should be brought to a settlement. I think what my right hon. Friend has stated tonight must suffice to convince the House that the question now before them is not whether or not you will have a cheap press. You have got your cheap press at this moment. London is already inundated with these cheap weekly prints. My right hon. Friend has told us of one single publication in London which now issues some 510,000 copies a-week, and of another which prints at the rate of 240,000 a-week. Here, then, are upwards of 34,000,000 copies of two publications alone printed annually in this metropolis. How many more similar publications there may be we have no means of knowing; but I apprehend that this statement is far from representing the actual number. You have then your cheap press established in the country. If it does not exist throughout the country, it is certainly established in the great centres of the population, and, above all, in London; and, as I have just observed, London is already inundated by those weekly prints. By the present frame and structure of your laws, you prevent the insertion, in these publications, of what may be considered discussions upon public events, or the statement of public news; and the ques- 794 tion for the House to decide is, not whether it is expedient to have a cheap press or to prohibit a cheap press, but rather when you have got a cheap press, whether you will give to the promoters of that cheap press the means of providing the people with intelligence of the events in which we are all so deeply interested, with intelligence relative to the working of our institutions and the passing of our laws, or whether you will drive them to what is petty and paltry, to cramming their columns with novels and romances,—whether you will preclude them from affording that information which really forms the worthiest material for consideration and reflection, or whether you will allow a fair competition between public news, as we understand it, and those inferior materials to which it is the tendency and effect of the present law to confine the conductors of these publications. Determined as I am to do all in my power completely to set free the press—whether it be a cheap or a dear one—for the handling of public events and news of all kinds, and to apply to this subject those principles of free commerce which have been extended with such efficacy to the general mercantile transactions of the country, yet, I fully admit that, so far as literary compositions are concerned, we now find them in our existing press of a high standard and of very great value, and that the principle of protection to those compositions is a perfectly fair and just one. I am not prepared to say, and indeed it would require one more skilled in the law, and better acquainted with the whole facts of the case, and the feelings and interest of the parties concerned than I am, to point out in what form this could best be done. I do not venture to prejudge this question, but I would venture to express a hope that, in endeavouring to carry out the principle of the freedom of the press, my right hon. Friend will not be indisposed to take into his favourable consideration any reasonable proposition which may be made to him for the improvement of the law of copyright, in order that we may not run any risk of breaking down that system under which the highest talent in the country is applied largely and advantageously devoted to supplying the public with intelligence and to the discussion of that intelligence. I must confess that I should regard the destruction of that system as a public misfortune—a misfortune which I am the less disposed to incur, because I do not 795 look upon it as a natural or necessary consequence of the important measure of emancipation which is now contemplated by Her Majesty's Government. Of course I do not offer any opposition to these Resolutions. When the Bill of my right hon. Friend comes before us, we shall have an opportunity of discussing it, and I entertain a most confident hope that it will receive a candid and favourable reception at the hands of the House.
SIR FRANCIS BARING
Sir, I am not about to enter into the discussion of the Motion itself now before the House, but there is one part of the subject which I think the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer dealt with rather unsatisfactorily, and which the late Chancellor of the Exchequer (Mr. Gladstone) touched on still more lightly—I mean that part having reference to our financial operations. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated with perfect candour that he apprehends that at least 200,000l. will be the loss on the measure proposed. Now, I do not pretend myself to draw an estimate different from my right hon. Friend, but I would remind him that Mr. Rowland Hill, in that Committee from whose labours he has derived the great part of his observations, stated—if my recollection serves me correctly—that the utmost he thought would be obtained by the adoption of a measure similar to that of the right hon. Gentleman would be 130,000l. Mr. Rowland Hill thought that that would be the maximum, but there has been some increase of income since, and I apprehend that you may count on the loss of about 250,000l. of revenue in adopting the proposed arrangement. The late Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he thought that by a cheap mode of carrying books by post you might obtain an additional sum of money; but I am afraid that our finances are in such a state that you must not neglect any mode of raising money; and you will have before long to consider, not only whether you cannot raise money by a cheap mode of carrying books, but by many other modes also which may be much less agreeable to the House and the country. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer, though not responsible for bringing forward the project at the present moment, yet, following the example of the late Cancellor of the Exchequer, has made this proposal at what I certainly think a very unfit time. I have repeatedly known—and perhaps I myself may have done what I am about to 796 describe—that when bon. Gentlemen on different sides of the House have proposed arrangements entailing a loss of revenue, the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the time being has risen and advised them, in reference to Motions affecting the revenue, to wait until the financial statement should be made, and then they would know what sum of money there might be to dispose of, then a full and comprehensive view could be taken of the taxation of the country, and then they would know how to apply any sum of public money they might have to spare in the manner the most advantageous for the public good. These proposals were made and this advice given when you were sure that you had some surplus; but are you at all certain at the present moment that you have a surplus? The Chancellor of the Exchequer has fairly told you, that if you pass this measure he must of necessity propose some other taxation to compensate for the sum it is now proposed should be lost. Well, then, let us know what is the taxation which the right hon. Gentleman will propose in lieu? We all know, and no one better than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that every tax is an evil in itself, and nothing in the world is so easy as to make a case against any tax you please if you consider it by itself. But you ought to consider it in reference and in comparison with other modes of raising money; and, though there can be no objection to allow the right hon. Gentleman to bring in his Bill, and lay his plan fairly before the House, yet we ought not to proceed to vote away 250,000l. of public money, until we have before us the whole state of the finances of the country, and are thereby able to take a full and comprehensive view of the subject. Therefore, I will not now enter further into the details of the plan which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has explained so clearly and candidly to the House, but if he proposes, after bringing in Ids Bill, to pass it before his financial statement is made, I am afraid that he will find me prepared, even if I should find myself in a minority of one, to vote for the postponement of the measure.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
I think, Sir, that the right hon. Gentleman who has last spoken has scarcely placed this matter on its proper footing. This is not properly a fiscal question, though it does involve revenue considerations; but are we to be told that this country is so pressed in her finances as to be unable to meddle 797 with a subject which incidentally involves 200,000l. of public revenue, when it is necessary to do so on grounds of public policy in order to avoid a vexatious system of prosecutions and difficulties of the most serious character to the press of this country? I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman, that we must be careful in times like these in not abandoning sources of revenue; but I cannot see that we should take such an alarming view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's proposition as to reject it on revenue grounds alone. I am sorry that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has left out of his plan that portion of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer's scheme which would have compensated for the loss of revenue occasioned by the removal of the newspaper stamp, because, while on the one hand the late Chancellor of the Exchequer gave up the newspaper stamp, he on the other, by admitting for the first time all printed matter to be carried by the Post-office at the rate of a penny for four ounces, opened a new source of revenue, which, giving great convenience to the public, would also have compensated to some extent, the loss incurred by the abolition of the newspaper stamp. It is difficult to speculate to what amount this compensation would have reached; but as the whole loss of revenue was calculated at 200,000l. it is quite certain that a large portion of that sum would have been replaced by the post-age rate for cheap printed matter, and, perhaps, even a larger sum might have been obtained than the 200,000l. about to be lost. Whether that would be so or not is, of course, a matter of opinion; but I hope the present Chancellor of the Exchequer will consider the proposition of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and add to his plan the proposal of a cheap rate of postage for all printed matter. It is a monstrous thing that The Times, for instance, weighing six ounces, or whatever else, is to be permitted for 1d. to be transmitted and retransmitted through the post for the term of our natural lives, and yet I may not send once through the Post Office a pamphlet for a ld., though perfectly willing to pay that sum for a single transmission. So far from any undue advantage being taken of the proposed change of the law by the transmission of improper publications through the post, I will venture to say that for one had publication sent by post there will be 100 good publications circulated by it. There will 798 for instance be religious tracts without number from philanthropic societies which at present have no means of distributing their productions throughout the country. With regard to the securities afforded by the present system, the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not correctly stated the law upon that subject. The liability to give securities does not apply to newspapers alone. Every person who publishes a pamphlet which comments on matters of Church and State and is sold at a less price than 6d., and contains letter-press matter of less than 1,714 square inches, is bound to find securities, and also to declare that he is worth 400l. after all his debts are paid. At the present moment, no man in London, according to law, is at liberty to express an opinion upon paper, and publish the same at a low price and in a small size, unless he is worth 400l. after all his debts are paid. These are the provisions of the present law, but they are not enforced, except against newspapers only. But if the law is not enforced, can there be a better reason advanced for repealing it? Do I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he intends to repeal only a portion of the law respecting securities; that he is going to retain them as against newspapers, and to abandon them as against other publications? If so I consider it would be very difficult for the right hon. Gentleman to show why that distinction should be drawn. With regard to registration which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) proposed to abolish, I wish to observe that an effectual registration would still exist, because the Act of George III., which requires that every printer should put his name and place of abode to every printed paper, would still remain in force. Every printer is also required to keep a register of his employers, and is bound to produce it on an order being issued by a justice of the peace for that purpose. So that in point of fact, there would still be a full registration of any printed paper, and the means of tracing the persons who were responsible for its publication, even if the registration referred to by the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) were abolished as that right hon. Gentleman proposed. I for one shall be extremely glad to give my support to the Resolutions proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; at the same time I shall endeavour to add to those parts 799 of the Bill which I think to be deficient, for I cannot say that I consider the measure as a whole to be so good as the one proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford.
§ MR. JOHN MACGREGOR
said, he would not then express an opinion on the comparative merits of the measure introduced by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) and the Resolutions now proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He believed, however, that, by imposing a fixed charge on all printed matter transmitted through the post, the revenue would not gain back altogether so much as it would lose by the repeal of the present postal duty for such publications. However, the whole question was one on which the opinion of the country was greatly divided, as to whether the inconveniences of any legislation whatever might not exceed the advantages that could accrue from it. The great majority of the press were opposed to both the proposed measures, while he believed the people of the country generally would prefer the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford to that now submitted to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There was great truth in what had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring), that the House should take into consideration what were the wants of the country, before they consented to throw away any considerable amount of revenue. He looked with very great concern at the present state of the revenue; and it should have been one of the first duties of the Government to have submitted their budget to the House, in order that it might be known what were the means which the Government possessed to meet the largely increased expenditure which the exigencies of the war had imposed on the country. It was true that in consequence of the changes in the Government it had not been possible hitherto to bring forward any financial statement, but he did trust that in a very short period the budget of the Government would be laid before the House and the country for due consideration. He trusted especially—indeed he did not believe the Government could be so insane as to do so—that they would not resort to disturb the glorious policy of no duties, or very low ones, on articles the essential food of man; and certainly not to increase the duties on articles which, as necessaries, formed the consolation of every cottager's, 800 labourer's, and tradesman's family: he meant the duties on tea, coffee, and sugar. They had done so already on a nutritious and wholesome beverage, good ale—and that very injudiciously, very unpopularly and unjustly.
§ MR. WARNER
said, he thought no time should be lost in repealing those absurd and mischievous laws which obstructed the circulation of news; but he entertained very great doubts as to whether this was the proper time for extending the postal privileges of printed matter. He would admit that in principle books were as much entitled to be circulated through the post as newspapers were; neither had any claim to postal privileges. If we could legislate de novo on this subject, it would be desirable to carry all printed matter at as low a price as possible, without loss to the revenue. But in practice there was this difference in favour of newspaper. Through the clumsy legislation of past times they had acquired a claim to be carried at a price which he believed resulted in a positive loss, and though it might be exceedingly inconvenient to curtail these privileges, there could be no reason for extending them. It was, after all, a question of cost. He should be glad to hear from some hon. Member competent to give an opinion on this matter, whether any profits accrued to the revenue by the transmission of newspapers through the Post Office. If so, and it could be shown that books could be transmitted without loss, it would be a strong argument for extending to them the privileges of newspapers. But he feared this was not the case. The Post Office ought to be at least self-supporting. Whether the carriage of newspapers was remunerative or not, he should give his support to the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the hope that the House would repeal those obnoxious laws which now interfered with the circulation of news.
said, as this was not the first time a measure of the kind now proposed had been submitted to the House, it was impossible not to be in a certain degree influenced by a consideration of the quarter whence these Resolutions proceeded. He must confess that, between the Resolutions now proposed and those which were originally proposed by the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, although he could trace a strong family resemblance, still there appeared to him to be a consi- 801 derable difference. He was not prepared at once, as a matter of course, to adopt the Resolutions which originally emanated from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone). In saying so, it was not because he did not admire the brilliant talent and eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman, but he should certainly have had more confidence in any measure proceeding from that right hon. Gentleman if he could have placed more reliance on a remark which was made by him on a former memorable occasion. No doubt, the right hon. Gentleman was most sincere in the declaration he then made, startling as it was to he (Mr. Bentinck), when he heard the right hon. Gentleman declare to the House that his opinions were strictly of a Conservative character. He would not enter into any discussion as to how far the right hon. Gentleman was or was not able to make good that very singular statement. All he could say was, that when he heard the right hon. Gentleman make the statement, he could not help ejaculating a hope that men of his party might never be tinged or tainted by such conservatism as that which had been exhibited for some years past by the right hon. Gentleman. He could not agree with the opinion which had been expressed by several hon. Members, that the loss which was likely to accrue to the revenue in carrying out these Resolutions would be more than supplied by the transmission through the post of a new description of printed publications. He thought that the new description of publications which would be engendered by the adoption of the Resolutions would be so purely of a local character and possess so entirely a merely local interest that they would not obtain any distant circulation; therefore it; was very doubtful whether they would at all increase the revenue, as far as their circulation was concerned. With regard to the other portion of the measure, it was premature to give any opinion, He could not, however, conceive the possibility of a Bill of the description indicated by the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman being adopted by the House without leading to the commencement of a revolution of the present established order of things connected with the press of this country. It must be the means of producing publications of a cheap description, in large districts of the country, of a totally different and of very inferior character to those which were now in 802 circulation. The measure was most certainly divested of those guarantees against the improper use and the abuse of the press which at present existed. Therefore, he thought it incumbent upon the House, in passing the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman, to take care that some efficient protection be provided against the abuses that must be engendered throughout the country by the circulation of publications that had no sort of check upon them, and that were liable to be made use of in all quarters without being subject to any of those restrictions which were now imposed upon newspapers at present circulating throughout the kingdom.
§ MR. KIRK
said, he had repeated communications with newspaper editors and proprietors, and they unanimously condemned the Bill of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, and were desirous that the present law should not be altered. He conceived that the existing law afforded as many advantages to the public as any measure could possibly give. He was not, however, disposed to offer any opposition to the Resolutions of the right hon. Gentleman on the present occasion, but he had felt it his duty to state what had been the communications made to him on the subject by those who were the most deeply interested in it.
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
I beg to assure the right hon. Baronet the Member for Portsmouth that I have maturely considered the financial consequences involved in this measure, and I have no doubt that my predecessor had done the same; but it must be remembered that this is not merely a fiscal matter, because, as I have already stated to the Committee, the existing law respecting the stamp duty upon newspapers has been brought into a most inconsistent and anomalous state by a succession of indulgences which were made for the benefit of a certain class of newspaper publications. The consequence of those indulgences is, that the greatest difficulty exists in the administration of the present law. The Board of Inland Revenue are perplexed by different publications which are set up, as it were, in defiance of the existing law. Frequent correspondence takes place between Mr. Timm, the solicitor to the Board, and the proprietors of various newspapers. Some of that correspondence has been from time to time brought under the consideration of the House; it is made the subject of com- 803 plaint, and my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General is constantly embarrassed in the administration of the law. Now, I will give to the Committee an example of the cases which arise. There was a newspaper published in Ireland called the Commercial Journal and Family Herald: it was a publication for the most part of a literary character, but it did not wholly exclude matters of intelligence; and a prosecution for printing it upon unstamped paper was instituted in the Court of Exchequer in Ireland. The jury, however, returned a verdict against the Crown, thereby intimating their opinion that, notwithstanding that the paper did contain some news, it was not a newspaper, the general contents being of a different character. The Irish Attorney General, being consulted, stated that, in his opinion, the verdict was not justified by the law, since the case was clearly within the provision of the Act of Parliament. Nevertheless, he did not recommend a renewal of the prosecution, on account of the difficulty in procuring a verdict in such cases. My hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for England will be prepared, at a future stage of the Bill, to state to the House the practical difficulty which he finds in performing his duty in respect to the prosecution of newspapers, and the maintenance and administration of the existing law. If the House should decide that this revenue is not to be abandoned—and certainly it is not the office of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, at a moment when the expenditure exceeds the revenue, to press upon the House the abandonment of any source of revenue—then the Attorney General will be prepared to point out the difficulties which surround the execution of the present law; and it will be necessary to take proceedings against about 100 class publications, which, as they now publish literary, legal, medical, and other news which is interesting to various classes, but not political news, do strictly come within the terms of the Act of Parliament, although, by the indulgent interpretation which has been admitted, they have hitherto been exempted. I trust, also, if the House is pleased to reject this Bill, that it will be prepared to support the Attorney General in a rigid execution of the existing law, and, if necessary, to pass a declaratory Act or a subsidiary Act to remedy any defects in the law as it at present stands. I will now call your attention to another example of the difficulties 804 which incumber the administration of the existing law. The solicitor of the Board of Inland Revenue, being examined before a Committee upon the subject of class publications, was asked why class publications were not subjected to the compulsory stamp? Inadvertently, instead of saying that they were exempted because they were addressed to a particular class of the community, he said that it was because they related only to one subject. In giving that reason, he made a slight error of statement. That error has now been taken up in different parts of the country, and a number of periodicals have appeared, such as the War Telegraph and the War Times, containing intelligence relating exclusively to the war, which they say is "one subject," and, so saying, set the Board of Inland Revenue at defiance. I hold in my hand a publication of that nature, called the War Fly Sheet, which is printed upon half a sheet of paper, and is sold at the price of one halfpenny. There is a note under the heading to this effect, "The War Fly Sheet, published in accordance with Mr. Keogh's rule of 1851, that a paper confined to one subject is not a newspaper; and, in spite of Mr. Keogh's change of opinion in the year 1854; for the purpose of ascertaining whether a proclamation from Somerset House has the same validity as an Act of Parliament." That is one of the difficulties which the present state of the law engenders. No doubt that publication is a newspaper practically subject to the compulsory stamp. At present, however, the circulation of War Sheets is not considerable; and, in the unsettled state of the law respecting newspaper stamps, the Board of Inland Revenue, I think in the exercise of a wise discretion, have abstained from directing prosecutions against that class of periodicals. If the House of Commons decide that the law is to be upheld, it will be for the Attorney General immediately to prosecute that class of periodicals. I mention these facts to show that we are now placed in a situation of great difficulty in upholding and administering the present law. It is not simply a question of whether we shall retain or shall not retain a revenue of 200,000l., but it is whether we shall enter upon a crusade against a large portion of the existing newspaper press for the sake of enforcing a law which can only be enforced by means of the verdicts of juries, which are somewhat doubtful in their result. These are the reasons which have 805 influenced the Government in the course which they have taken in bringing forward this measure, and it is for the Committee to determine whether they have exercised a sound discretion or the reverse.
I feel, Sir, that the chief part of the financial responsibility of this measure can rest upon no other person than myself; and, therefore, after what has fallen from the right hon. Member for Portsmouth (Sir F. Baring), I wish to add a word to what has been stated by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He has pointed out, not only that the present state of the law is a theoretical absurdity, but that it contains practical difficulties which have reached such a pitch as to be entirely intolerable; that not only has it become utterly impossible for the gentlemen connected with the Board of Inland Revenue to discharge their duty to the public by enforcing the law, but that the cases which have occurred have been so glaring and so numerous as to bring all law into discredit. The very fact, also, of bringing the Government of the country into contact with persons under circumstances so disparaging, and of exposing them to questions in this House to which they are unable to make satisfactory replies, is a strong reason why Parliament should deal with this question. But, in defence of my right hon. Friend and myself, I must remind the Committee that it is the House of Commons which is principally responsible for the introduction of this measure. Last year, when I was absent, owing to indisposition, the discussion was raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) and others, not upon the suggestion of the Government, because the Government adopted a dissuasive tone in the matter; and it was rather in deference to the strong and unanimous opinion of the House that the Government gave way, and not because they thought that the proposition was either a wise or a prudent one. Now, what did the House do under the pressure of circumstances—what did both sides of the House think fit to do? At a time when the country was engaged in a war, when every Member of this House must have known that the demand for the year would exceed the provision which was made—liberal as that was—a Resolution was agreed to to the effect that the law with regard to newspapers was imperfectly defined and partially enforced. I am not one of those 806 who think that a Member of this House, or a Member of the Government, should be compelled to do anything which the house might choose to require, and I may myself have on one occasion appeared to be contumacious in not at once acting in accordance with the expressed wishes of the House; but I may say that, greatly as I disapprove of the practice of passing abstract Resolutions, instead of dealing with practical plans, yet if the House chooses to adopt that course, and to lay down the opinion that a law should be altered, it is the duty of a Minister of the Crown to endeavour to give full effect to the expressed wish of the House, unless some obstacle of a serious nature should intervene; and therefore, to my mind, the question now is whether, under existing circumstances, the alteration proposed by the Government is for the good of the country. Now, I would ask the right hon. Member for Portsmouth whether he is able to suggest or to recommend any alteration of the law which is in principle different from the proposal made to-night by the Government, or from that which, a few weeks ago, I brought forward myself? Will any one stand up and say that he agreed to the Resolution which was passed by the House, but that in his opinion the law ought to be altered by enforcing the stringent definitions which at present exist or even by making them more stringent still? I have no doubt that any hon. Gentleman expressing an opinion on this subject will stand to the opinion he expresses; but if objection is to be taken to the present Resolutions on the ground that they refer to a financial and fiscal subject, whereas it is a measure in which the fiscal element is merely a secondary consideration, I must request those hon. Gentlemen who thus object on financial grounds not to shrink from declaring their opinions on the general policy of the proposal. I must ask them to point out to the Government what course they ought to have pursued in order best to give effect to the Resolutions agreed to by the House last year. It will not do for those persons who forced upon the Government the view that the law must be altered, to take financial objections to the measure now proposed, and to refrain from stating in what way they intended that an alteration should be made in the law when they voted in favour of the Resolution which was agreed to by the House.
§ MR. LAING
said, he felt considerable 807 apprehension at any proposition at the present time which had the effect of remitting taxation, to any extent, however slight. He could understand, under ordinary circumstances, a reduction like the present being proposed, and he should, under such circumstances, look upon it with favour. At the present day, however, there was one consideration which was paramount to all others, and it was the duty of a Government to avoid seeking popularity in that House or in the country by giving up any taxation when the country was, from the circumstances of the war, inevitably compelled to expend so many millions. He was willing to accept any blame which might attach to him for having voted in favour of the Resolution referred to by the right hon. Gentleman who had last addressed them, but he would remind that right hon. Gentleman that at the time that Resolution was agreed to it had been stated that the amount of taxation existing would be sufficient to meet the exigencies of the public service, and that the Exchequer bonds which were issued were only in anticipation of the revenue. In such a state of affairs he considered that it was not improper to pass the Resolution referred to; but at the present time the case was widely different, for it was impossible for that House to conceal from itself that the expenditure of the country exceeded by many millions any sum which could reasonably be expected to be raised by taxation during the year; and, under these circumstances, it was, in his opinion, wrong to remit a tax which produced 200,000l. At such a time it was not expedient to remit taxation in order to court popularity, however unpopular any tax might be. If it could be shown that by the introduction of a measure like that described by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer taxation was being adjusted, and not remitted, the case would be different; but if such were not the case, he thought that to remit any tax at the present time might be attended with dangerous consequences.
§ MR. BRIGHT
I am afraid, Sir, that the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down has created a difficulty which does not appear to me really to exist. This House is aware that when the Government was foolish enough or wicked enough to involve the country in war no limit to taxation could be expected. With regard to the sum of 200,000l., I should have more faith in that objection if it were made by 808 those Gentlemen who have complained against wasting the public money; but it appears to me that so many millions are voted night after night with so little trouble, that I do not look upon that particular sum as an insuperable objection or difficulty in the way of adopting the course which the House is now advised to pursue. But the question is not one of 200,000l. It is impossible to say what will be the loss to the Exchequer if the Chancellor of the Exchequer intends to allow all printed matter to go through the post. That, no doubt, would make up for some portion of the loss, but that, however, is not the question. The real question is, whether a Resolution which has been unanimously agreed to by the House shall be adhered to or not; or there is the other question, whether the law which exists, whatever it may be, shall be fairly administered by your authorities out of this House. Now, the right hon. Gentleman the late Chancellor of the Exchequer has examined this subject in his official capacity most minutely, more so, perhaps, than any other Member of this House, and the right hon. Gentleman the present Chancellor of the Exchequer has also examined it during the short time he has been in office, and both those right hon. Gentlemen have come to the same conclusion as that which he himself and the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), and other hon. Friends of his had arrived at long ago—that the law was in such a condition that it was impossible to be worked by the authorities at Somerset House. If the Government had now determined not to alter the law, but to give the Attorney General orders to prosecute every one who should break it, there would not be to-morrow an Attorney General at all. There was no man he believed in that town or in England, of the legal profession, who would under such circumstances be willing to hold the office of the highest legal adviser of the Crown, or who would take upon himself to prosecute not 100, but more than 200 persons who are engaged in publishing papers which, strictly speaking, come within the limits of the existing law. I think the question of the sum of 200,000l. may be left out of view, or rather I am prepared to take it into view, because I think it is at once disposed of, for, when such large sums are nightly voted almost without any consideration whatever, I think that very little notice need be taken of such a sum as 200,000l. With regard 809 to the question of pirating literary property, I should have no objection to any legislation which could equitably deal with the involved question of copyright, but I really think intervention on the subject is unnecessary. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer is of opinion that in the case of short paragraphs any legislation would he useless, as the news could be taken, and the wording of the paragraph entirely changed. With regard to leading articles, there might be some chance of their being pillaged, but, even according to the present law, they may be published without a stamp, and, indeed, a newspaper might be published every morning at ten o'clock and sold at 1d., giving all the articles of all the morning papers in London. I will undertake to say, however, that such a paper would not have any very great circulation, for the English people have an instinctive dislike of anything which bears meanness and dishonesty on the face of it. I am of opinion, too, that the leading articles are not the things which sell a newspaper, though we all of us read them of a morning with a devotion which I cannot account for, seeing the little information which we generally find we have obtained when we get to the end of them. With regard, however, to the securities against libel and the like, I will just read to the House a little paragraph which I cut the other day out of the Cambridge Press:—The good Time Coming: I hear, upon good authority, that at this moment a project is on foot among the men who have been most active in the movement against the newspaper stamp duty to start a penny or twopenny daily paper, to appear at ten or eleven o'clock in the day, and to be composed of the materials furnished (at great expense) by the respectable daily papers a tiny hours before! The very idea of such villany is revolting.I do not know whether the worthy editor meant to apply these charges to my right hon. Friend near me (Mr. M. Gibson) and myself, but he certainly seems to forget that he has given all the securities which the law prescribes not to libel any one. This charge was copied into The Globe on the 12th of March, and the following morning it did duty in The Times. Now The Globe is a paper which, with the exception of a few advertisements which it gets from the Treasury, fills its columns entirely with intelligence which somebody with the help of a good pair of scissors has extracted from the morning papers. Now, I do not see exactly what mighty difference there is between coming out at ten o'clock in the 810 morning and three in the afternoon, but certainly I think the conduct which is revolting in the one case cannot be entirely without guilt in the other. One request I would make of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and that is, that he will bring in this Bill as soon as he can, and pass it as fast as ever the House will allow him; for I know that there are some hundreds of people in the country connected with newspapers—some of whom have opposed, and some supported the measure—who are in extreme difficulty to know what to do in their present state of suspense. They do not know exactly where they will be hit, and they are, in great perplexity to know what arrangements they will have to make for the future. I entirely disagree, however, with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that this measure will not produce a good crop of newspapers. I have here a paragraph from one of the Glasgow papers, I believe, from which I see that three new daily papers are about to be established in that city—the Daily News, the Morning Bulletin, at 1d., and the Evening Digest, at ½d. In Manchester, too, preparations are being made for starting daily papers as soon as ever this Bill has passed. Something has been said to-night about the opposition which many of the provincial papers have made to this proposal, but I am very glad to say that a great many papers, and among them some of the best and most influential of the provincial press, have all alone supported it. The Leeds Mercury for instance—a paper almost unexampled for the influence which it possesses in the distract in which it is published—has always written in favour of the abolition of the stamp duty, as a measure, among other reasons, necessary for the spread of education. The Manchester Examiner, too, has always, from its establishment, consistently supported the measure; and The Manchester Guardian, a paper of older date and larger circulation, has also taken the same course, and has very lately charged a London journal with having opposed the Government because the Government was about to propose the abolition of the stamp. It is certainly very unbecoming for one journal to make such a charge against another, nor do I believe that it has the least ground in truth. I am quite satisfied, from years of attention to this subject, that there never was so large a measure, involved in a small measure, so to speak, as is the case with re- 811 gard to this proposition for making the press free. I am willing to rest on the verdict of the future, and I am quite convinced that five or six years will show that all the votes of Parliament for educational purposes have been as mere trifles compared with the vast results which will flow from this measure, because, while the existing papers will retain all their powers of usefulness, it will call to their aid numbers of others not less useful, and while we continue to enjoy the advantage of having laid before us each morning a map of the events of the world, the same advantage will be extended to classes of society at present shut out from it. The Times newspaper has written rather strongly lately upon this subject, and in a manner which, if I had been asked for advice, I should scarcely have recommended—though, perhaps it is rather presumptuous in me to talk of giving advice to The Times. That journal generally says something good upon every subject, and only so far back as the 17th of May last it wrote an article on the subject, in which was the following paragraph—and I quote it to show that, however dangerous The Times may think any principle of legislation may be which is unfair to its own interests—and I am not at all prepared to say that the plan of Mr. Spring Rice, when he lowered the duties, was not unfair to that journal—yet on the subject of the stamp it can when it so pleases write as rationally and as powerfully as any one. This is the paragraph—With all our talk about knowledge, about the achievements of science, about education, schools, churches, enlightenment, and Heaven knows what not, there is something positively ridiculous in taxing that intelligence which really constitutes the great medium of a civilised country. We make a great stir about teaching everybody to read, and the State, that is the nation, pays a quarter of a million a year in teaching children to do little more than read. Then we proceed to tax the very first thing that everybody reads. In this way the newspapers pay for the education of the country, for they find their expenses aggravated and their circulation restricted by an impost about equal to the sum spent in educating the masses. But we have several times enlarged on the absurdity of a tax which, as it is a tax on news, is a tax on knowledge, and is thus a tax on light, a tax on education, a tax on truth, a tax on public opinion, a tax on good order and good government, a tax on society, a tax on the progress of human affairs, and on the working of human institutions.Now I like authorities as well as anybody when they are on my own side, and The Times is a great authority, no doubt, on 812 such a matter as this. I am prepared to admit that there is no journal to which the people of this country are more indebted than to The Times. Though it is, I consider, wrong on many points, though it knocks us all about pretty roughly at times, and though it maltreats many questions, yet it is a free press, and, whatever may be its faults, nobody can deny that education, freedom, and progress of every kind are very much indebted to that great public instructor. I quote this paragraph therefore with the more confidence, though I am not quite sure that The Times may not to-morrow entirely deny it, or write in an opposite sense. When we see, then, great and influential journals, such as The Times and the provincial papers to which I have alluded, whose interests are so deeply involved, writing in favour of the abolition of this duty, not a single Member of this House should rise to oppose it. Two Chancellors of the Exchequer have to-night told us that they are in favour of its abolition, and I hope no man who looks forward to becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer will have the boldness to dispute their opinion. This is the question of which there is no getting rid; you must decide it, and the only satisfactory way in which you can do so is to take the besom and make a clean sweep. I have done something towards bringing this question before the public and before the House, and, if this measure passes, I shall look back to the part which I have taken in this movement with as much pleasure as upon any part of my public career.
§ MR. PACKE
said, that however much certain large towns might be enamoured of this measure, certainly in country districts, where people could only obtain their newspapers through the medium of the post, it was not at all palatable. He would not, however, object to the passing of the Resolutions now before the Committee, but he reserved to himself the right of opposing the measure at a future stage.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, he could not regard one argument at least of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) as very conclusive, namely, that because the country was at war the present was to be the moment for getting rid of taxation. He quite agreed in the opinion that this was not exclusively a fiscal question; for, without doubt, it involved a great legal difficulty, and it was but right that the House of Commons should come to such a decision as would 813 relieve the law officers of the Crown from their present false and embarrassing position. Still he was at a loss to know why 500,000l. of taxation could not be raised from newspapers published within a month after the occurrence of the events narrated. His belief was, however, that two thirds of any tax levied upon newspapers must be absorbed in the expense of transmitting them through the Post Office. But he wished, before he came to any conclusion as to the measure now under discussion, to have a clear explanation from the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer as to the sources from which he intended to supply the consequent deficit of 200,000l.
§ MR. J. G. PHILLIMORE
said, he considered the proposed alteration of the law was demanded with reference to the due administration of the law, from a regard for the education of the people, and out of respect for the House's own recorded Resolution.
said, the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) had stated that there was an inconsistency in having assented tacitly to the Motion of the right hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. M. Gibson) last year, and now opposing the Resolution of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Now, he (Mir. Bentinck) had not spoken on the occasion when the right hon. Gentleman's (Mr. Gibson's) Motion was discussed, but certainly it would be a sweeping rule to lay down in that House that silence invariably gave consent. But, in fact, there was no real inconsistency between supporting the Resolutions of last year and opposing the present Motion. The right hon. Member for Manchester's Motion was—That, in the opinion of this House, the laws in reference to the periodical press and the newspaper stamp are ill-defined and unequally enforced, and it appears to this House that the subject demands the early consideration of Parliament.Now, undoubtedly, the state of the law did demand early consideration; but he must entirely dissent from the particular manner in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed to deal with the question. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself told them that there are at this moment a great number of publications or newspapers the position of which was so doubtful that the highest legal authorities were at a loss whether they ought to tackle with them or not. Nothing could be worse than such an anomaly, and the state of the law ought to be dealt with as speedily as possible, if it were only to vindicate the rights of that 814 portion of the press winch was subjected to taxation.
§ MR. MILNER GIBSON
said, he wished to know whether, in the case of the Resolutions being agreed to, the Bill would be brought in to morrow?
THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
said, that the Resolutions would be reported to-morrow, and the Bill would be then introduced.
§ Resolutions agreed to.
§ Resolutions to be reported To-morrow.
§ House resumed.