HC Deb 07 April 1859 vol 153 cc1523-6

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.


said, he wished to ask the Government for a statement of their intentions with respect to this Bill.


said, that when this Bill came on for a second reading his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General intimated that there were objections to some of its provisions. There were two classes of legislative enactments with which the Bill proposed to deal. One referred to security, the other to registration. The Solicitor General said as to security there were enactments that had become obsolete from circumstances, or which were never put in force; and his hon. and learned Friend was willing to accede to such provisions of the hon. Member's (Mr. Ayrton's) Bill as dealt with those Statutes or portions of Statutes. But with regard to the provisions under the head of registration his hon. and learned Friend reserved his opinion. Since the second reading of the Bill he (Mr. S. Estcourt) had received a memorial from the Society for Promoting the Repeal of Taxes on Knowledge, very distinctly pointing out the several entries contained under the head of registration, and pointing out how very little security they afforded. He believed they were all agreed that whatever real security existed against the publication of blasphemous, indecent, slanderous, or libellous matter ought to be retained; but that whatever was not necessary to afford such security, and whatever might be classed under the head of "obsolete" ought not to remain on the Statute-book. This was the feeling of Her Majesty's Government. Many of the provisions which the hon. Gentleman intended by his Bill to repeal, were enactments or portions of enactments passed by Parliament to meet special circumstances which no longer existed. Of this kind were the provisions directed against Jacobins. There was, therefore, no reason for maintaining those provisions on the Statute-book. The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Ayrton) desired to know whether there were any parts of several Acts enumerated in his Bill which the Government desired to retain. He (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) had talked the matter over with his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General, and the result was that he could not consent at that moment to the Bill of the hon. Gentleman, for the amount of repeal which it provided for was so sweeping, and it embraced so large a scope of legislation — legislation extending over fifty years—that although on the whole he might not be prepared to point out to the hon. Gentleman what it might be necessary to retain, neither was he ready to say what part of the existing law might be safely abrogated. Therefore, considering the position in which the House at present stood—bearing in mind that even if the Government allowed the Bill to pass through the Commons it could scarcely pass through the Lords previously to a dissolution, he would make an offer to the hon. Gentleman. He would undertake that this matter should be fairly considered during the recess—considered in a spirit not different from that in which the hon. Gentleman himself had approached it—and that if he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) had the honour of a seat in the new Parliament he would himself lay a Bill upon the table, preserving whatever the Government thought necessary to be retained, and repealing whatever they thought might safely be dispensed with; or that if he did not bring forward a Bill on behalf of the Government he would communicate with the hon. Member should he (Mr. Ayrton) be a Member of the new House, and put him in possession of the views of the Government on the subject.


said, he thought that the country was much indebted to the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) for having devoted his attention to the matter; and, as Her Majesty's Government had met him in so fair a spirit, he (Mr. James) would take the liberty of suggesting to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department that, at the most, all that was necessary to be preserved of the existing enactments having reference to newspapers was 6 & 7 Will. IV., c. 76. That statute prescribed registration, and that the printer's name should appear on the publication. Now, as the object of legislation on this subject at the present day ought not to be to clog newspapers with restrictions, he thought that the provision requiring the printer's name to be attached to the publication would be sufficient. Since the establishment of the cheap press attacks on private character had not been known, the conductors of the newspaper press discharging their duties, as journalists of public matters, without invading the sanctities of private life. He would suggest to the Secretary of State for the Home Department that requiring the printer's name to appear on every publication would be all that was really necessary; and that, by abolishing everything else, we should get rid of the machinery which clogged the liberty of the press without producing any practical utility.


remarked that there was nothing novel in the proposition before the House; for, in 1855, the right hon. Member for the University of Oxford proposed a Bill to abolish both the security and the registration required of newspapers. It was considered maturely by the Government in 1855, and they were prepared to legislate pretty much in the manner now proposed by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State would, therefore, find in his department, ready to his hand, all the information that might be required for a consideration of the question. He (Mr. Milner Gibson) submitted that the principle which should be acted upon was this that no rule should be applied to newspapers that was not applied to all other publications. If it were considered necessary that the printer's name should appear on newspapers, let it also appear on all printed papers whatever. They ought not to have a distinct legislation for newspapers, for here had been the stumbling-block, and no court of law had yet been able to decide clearly what is a newspaper.


said, that after the suggestion made by the Secretary for the Home Department he should not ask the House to proceed further with the Bill this Session.


observed that all parties were agreed that the statutes which required security to be given ought to be repealed, and that those which required the printer's name to be attached should be retained. The only point for consideration was, whether the law which required newspapers to be registered at Somerset House ought to be repealed or not. He admitted that there were no means of enforcing that law; but, on the other hand, it was possible to provide some better means of registration. He thought the better course for him to take would be to move that the light hon. Gentleman should leave the Chair, which would terminate the Bill for the present Session.

House resumed. [No Report].