HC Deb 10 July 1857 vol 146 cc1284-5

said, that the other night he endeavoured to call the attention of the House to the course the Government were pursuing, in attempting to enforce the provisions of the law against certain publications, many of which provisions might be regarded as obsolete, and some of which, in his opinion, ought not to be enforced under the circumstances in which the press was at present placed. It appeared that the Government were acting under the advice of the law officers of the Crown, but he was told that it was unprecedented to lay a copy of the opinion of the law officers before the House. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, stated, that if any particular case was brought under his notice, he would endeavour to give an explanation of it. The Government had commenced a prosecution against the Bury Times, and he wished to know whether it was their intention to enforce the provisions of the statutes relating to the giving of security and registration on the part of newspapers against every one who contravened those statutes. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman was not correct in the description he had given of what had occurred in the last Parliament. He (Mr. Ayrton) understood that those who desired the repeal of the duty on newspapers, did not wish to embarrass the question by discussing what should be done with respect to registration and security, and therefore the last Parliament came to no deliberate opinion on that matter. Consequently, until the Government took the deliberate opinion of the House upon it, they ought not to institute active measures to enforce the law in that respect. He would now beg to ask, whether it is the intention of Government to continue the prosecution of the publisher of the Bury Times, and to abstain from prosecuting the publisher of the Free Press, and of all other newspapers and pamphlets published without compliance with the statutes relating to security and registration?


said, he did not understand that it was the duty of the Government to take the opinion of the House as to the enforcement of this statutory provision, which had been law since 1815, or of any other statutory provision. It was their duty to enforce the existing law, and until Parliament altered it, they must take steps to carry the statutory enactment into effect. No alteration was made in the provisions with respect to security to be afforded by newspapers, and with respect to registration when the compulsory stamp duty was taken off; and it was distinctly explained to the House when that change of the law was effected, that the Government did not propose to interfere with those provisions. With that preliminary explanation, he would proceed to answer the question which the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets had put to him. The Government did intend to proceed with the prosecution of the Bury Times, and would similarly proceed against any other newspaper which did not comply with the statutory enactments respecting security and registration. With respect to the other publication, the Free Press, it was not considered to be a newspaper, and therefore no proceedings would be taken against it.