HL Deb 25 April 1836 vol 33 cc198-203
Lord Lyndhurst

said, he rose to present a Petition from certain gentlemen, the printers or proprietors of the Times, the Morning Herald, the Morning Post, and the Standard-newspapers. The petitioners stated, that they had learned from authority, on which they could perfectly rely, that a measure was contemplated, which, if carried into effect, would prove extremely injurious to their interests, and would, be-sides, tend greatly to impede the information which the public derived through the medium of the daily press. The petitioners did not complain because Government had turned its attention to the subject of Newspaper Stamps, but they strongly objected to the manner in which it was proposed to carry the contemplated measure into effect, as being unjust and partial in its operation. They stated, that they were informed, and from the best authority, that it was intended to restrict the size of newspapers; that a tax of 1d. was to be imposed on papers of a certain size, and a larger tax, or 1d. additional, was to be levied on papers exceeding that size. They observed, that previous to 1825 a similar restriction existed, and was found to be extremely hard and injurious in many respects. In consequence of this, application was made to the Government of that time to remove the cause of complaint, through Mr. Huskisson, who represented the facts to the then Chancellor of the Exchequer. In the correspondence which followed, the injustice and impolicy of the restriction were clearly admitted, and it was ultimately removed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In consequence of the removal of that restriction, as well as looking to the grounds and principles on which that removal was founded, the newspaper proprietors had concluded that a similar restriction was never afterwards to be enforced. Acting under this impression, they had laid out considerable sums of money and expended much capital in enlarging their machinery, and making other improvements, both with respect to the printing and other departments of their different newspapers. They affirmed, that if the proposed restrictions were carried into effect, all the capital so employed by them would be entirely useless—it would, in fact, be wholly thrown away; and therefore, in that respect, the measure would work very injuriously with reference to their interests. This was one of the grounds stated in their petition. They farther stated, that this measure would be partial and unjust in its operation, on this ground, that there was no daily newspaper that exceeded the size of the other newspapers, except one, which was about one-eighth larger. That was sufficiently large for all its purposes—for its intelligence, advertisements, &c.— and therefore it never published what was called "a double sheet," which was an enlarged sheet, being twice the ordinary size. Now, it was singular that the size of this particular newspaper was selected as the standard. Any paper exceeding that size was to sustain an increased tax. All papers of that size, or below it, were to pay the reduced rate, but those which exceeded that size would be liable to an increased duty. But the petitioners said, that the size selected by that particular journal would not answer their purpose; and that the plan proposed would be oppressive, injurious, and partial, so far as their interests were concerned, seeing that it would confer a particular favour on one newspaper, at the expense of most of the others. The petitioners did not assert, that in the formation of the proposed measure any person was influenced by an unfair bias; but to this point he might call their Lordships' attention, and he believed the fact to be so, that the paper to which allusion had been made was the only Morning Journal that supported the policy and principles of his Majesty's present Government. He did not mean to say, that the journal in question supported that policy and those principles without any restriction, because it appeared to exercise a severe and vigilant control over his Majesty's Government; but the fact which he had stated, and which he had a right to state, had undoubtedly excited considerable jealousy and apprehension amongst those whose interests were likely to be seriously affected. It was stated that the Stamp was not meant as a tax, but was intended to cover the expense of postage; and that, therefore, it was proper that the larger paper, should pay a higher rate than that which was of a more limited size. That, however, the petitioners argued, was a new principle, for they had never paid more for a double than a single sheet. Besides these points, the petitioners went into a consideration of the effect which the proposed alteration would have on the tax, that effect being to injure the revenue; and they reasoned the matter thus:—They said, if the measure became law, it would operate as a prohibition of double papers, which were charged to readers at the same price as single papers; because, if double the ordinary amount were called for, readers would not purchase, and, therefore, double papers would not be published. Now, if these double papers were discontinued, a great loss to the revenue would be the consequence, as the petitioners had fully, fairly, and distinctly shown. The double sheet was chiefly resorted to on account of the advertisements, the average number of which was 600, giving a duty of 45l.; and supposing the impression of the double sheet to be 10,000, it gave an additional paper duty of 11l., making a total of 56l. Here, then, it was evident that a loss would inevitably result from the prohibition of double papers, a loss more than equivalent to the additional penny. The effect of this tax would be an absolute prohibition of publishing these double sheets, and as the papers generally appeared in that form three or four times a-week, here was a certain loss on a sale amounting to 10,000, or perhaps more. The petitioners stated further, that the tax was opposed to the principle of the Bill itself, which professed to take off, as far as possible, every impost which impeded the increase of knowledge and intelligence, which, in fact, professed to remove the taxes on knowledge; but, instead of having that effect, its operation would be to diminish the diffusion of knowledge one-half. These were the statements in the petition, which appeared to him to be striking and forcible, well-worthy of the consideration of their Lordships, and particularly of his Majesty's Government, who, he hoped, would speedily turn their attention to them.

The Petition was brought up and read.

On the question that it lie on the Table.

The Earl of Ripon

said, the clear and luminous statement of his noble and learned Friend had recalled to his mind the fact, that it had been his duty, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, to propose certain modifications of the duty on stamps, and he introduced at that time the removal of the restriction which, it appeared, was now about to be renewed. He very well recollected that, when he proposed to the House of Commons the modification which was now to be removed, it was received by the House as a very liberal concession. And it certainly would not be unreasonable, in support of his own consistency, to call upon Ministers to state the grounds on which they meant to alter the tax, and to do away with the restriction, if the Bill found its way into that House with the alterations to which his noble and learned Friend had alluded.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

said, this was a petition against a Bill that was not before their Lordships' House. When the measure was introduced he should be prepared to answer the allegations of the petitioners. Many of the topics referred to, he admitted, demanded inquiry, and Government was anxious to place every portion of the press on a footing of equality.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, the petition did not mention any specific Bill, but alluded merely to a measure that was generally talked of.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

did not conceive that that was the proper time for going into the matter which the noble and learned Lord had argued and discussed. Much confusion and dissatisfaction would arise from adopting so irregular a course.

Lord Lyndhurst

said, he had entered into no argument, but merely stated the facts contained in the petition.

The Marquis of Lansdowne

understood the noble and learned Lord to have said, that the argument and reasoning of the petition had forcibly struck his own mind, and were calculated to make an impression on their Lordships.

Petition to lie on the table. It was as follows:—


"The humble petition of the undersigned showeth—

"That your petitioners are printers or proprietors of daily newspapers in this metropolis, and have learnt that a measure is in progress, by which, if completed, their interests will be materially injured, the informa- tion of the public derived from the daily press greatly impeded, and the revenue drawn from the several duties to which newspapers are liable diminished.

"It is proposed, that 'no newspaper shall be printed on any sheet or piece of paper exceeding 41 inches in length and 26 inches in breadth, unless the same shall be stamped for denoting the payment of double the duty by this schedule imposed on any newspaper.'

"Now, your petitioners beg leave to state to your right hon. House, that the effect of this will be to prevent absolutely the publication of what are called double papers, and thus to cramp the undersigned in the just and necessary exercise of their business. The partiality of the measure will be no less striking when laid before your right hon. House than its general oppressive character; for the admeasurement recommended to be imposed by the new act is exactly such as will spare a journal unaccustomed to publish double papers, which is peculiarly attached to the present Administration, and oppress and impoverish all the others which adopt a more independent and impartial line of policy.

"That the law now existing with reference to the size of newspapers has been in operation ever since the year 1825, at which time the late Mr. Huskisson was so convinced of the impolicy and injustice of restrictions similar to those now proposed, that he introduced an act leaving to printers the exercise of their own discretion with respect to the size of their journals, thus establishing the principle of a free trade in this as in other commercial property.

"That in consequence of this rational, as well as liberal view, the then Parliament repealed those restrictions upon the size and form of newspapers which it is now attempted to reimpose; and so thoroughly convinced were your petitioners that it could never be attempted to bring so erroneous and even barbarous a principle into action again, that their machinery, and all their mechanical arrangements, have been formed and established in the confidence that they could not hereafter be so restricted and harassed in the fair operation of their business. The proposed law would also greatly inconvenience the paper-makers.

"By the intended measure, therefore, the greatest risk to property, which is become valuable through an immense outlay of money and labour will be incurred; the amount of which property is of itself a pledge to the state of the good conduct and character of those who are embarked in the management of the daily journals. The diffusion of useful intelligence, also, being an object which it is desirable to promote, your petitioners beg to state that the limitation of the size of a paper is a more direct impediment to the spread of knowledge than a high price; because a combination of small subscriptions enables the poorest people to read the journals even at their present price, whilst a compulsory maxi-mum of size will prevent a newspaper from publishing more than a fixed quantity of matter, except at the expense of an additional stamp.

"The loss to the revenue, also, will be no less obvious than the impediment to the obtaining information; inasmuch as the extra number of columns which go to the composition of what is called a 'double sheet' are filled almost exclusively with advertisements —and thus the obstacle thrown in the way of publishing such advertisements, and of consuming a double quantity of paper, will operate in a twofold manner against the derivation of any profit to the public from the additional stamp of 1d., which is levelled against journals of more than a given size.

"Your petitioners, therefore, humbly pray that your right hon. House will not sanction a measure which bears with such peculiar and even personal hardship on certain individual newspapers, whilst it violates the plainest principles of free trade, and tends to defeat the productiveness of duties already established—viz., that on advertisements, and that on the manufacture of paper; contracting and diminishing the sum total of information circulated amongst the reading public, and not even providing an equitable copyright as a protection to the capital and literary labour profusely expended by the daily journalists, in the constant acquisition and preparation of new matter to meet the wants of the community.

"And your petitioners, &c.





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