§ Order of the day for the second Reading read.
§ VISCOUNT CANNING
, in moving that the Bill be now read the Second time, said, that although the subject which he was about to bring before their Lordships was one that came before their eyes every day, and although of late years it had been frequently a matter of discussion in the other House of Parliament and out of doors, he believed a long time had elapsed since the question had been brought in any shape before their Lordships' House. Not that any imputation could rest upon their Lordships for not having taken the initiative in considering a question which so materially affected the intelligence, education, and social condition of their fellow-countrymen; for he apprehended that the initiative had been left to the other House of Parliament because the question could not be dealt with without interfering more or less with a source of revenue. But, whatever might be the reason which had prevented the question from being brought before their Lordships in late years, it might perhaps be convenient, before he proceeded to describe the provisions of the Bill, that he should state to the House the present condition of the law upon the subject, the manner in which it had operated, and the reasons which made it not only desirable, but absolutely necessary, that some change should take place. The early history of the stamp upon newspapers might he very shortly told; but in mentioning its principal features, he would 953 take the liberty at the same time of calling the attention of their Lordships to the moving spirit and object of the various acts which had been passed to regulate the newspaper stamp. The first act by which a stamp duty was imposed upon newspapers was passed in the reign of Queen Anne, at a time when newspapers, ceasing to be mere chronicles of events, assumed the character of commentators and critics upon all that was passing around, and of partisans of the various factions of the State. The freedom with which they exercised their functions seemed to have given offence not only to the Government, but to the Parliaments of that day; for in a message sent from the Crown to the House of Commons, in 1712 was a paragraph calling their attention to the subject, and recommending them to find a remedy without delay. The result was the passing of an act imposing a stamp upon newspapers. But it was deserving of notice that that was not the only means of correcting the evil pointed out to Parliament which had suggested itself to the Legislature. Other measures were thought of and discussed, which would not, like the one adopted, have had the effect of bringing into the exchequer any amount of revenue, however small. No change took place in the stamp duties thus imposed until the Administration of Lord North, in 1776, took the question into consideration, and imposed an increase upon the stamp of 50 per cent. In proposing that increase of duty Lord North said that,Many persons thought that newspapers did more harm than good, while others looked upon them to be a great public benefit. He would not pretend to determine whether they were or were not; but he could not help observing that they inculcated one thing, which he believed was not to be credited, which was that the liberties of this country were in danger from cruel, ambitious, and tyrannical ministers, when under this tyrannical government news writers were daily permitted to abuse the persons and misrepresent the measures of those very men whom they described as enemies of liberty, with impunity. He could further inform them that those calumnies and falsehoods were propagated and repeated in the course of a year in no less than 12,230,000 newspapers. It was difficult to determine whence this avidity for reading newspapers arose. He could not say it was from a thirst of knowledge or improvement. He presumed, therefore, it was from a general desire of knowing what was passing, of spending half an hour that lay heavy on their hands, or from an idle foolish curiosity; but let the reason be what it might, it was a species of luxury that ought to be taxed, and from the propensity just mentioned would, he made 954 no doubt, well bear it—Hansard's Parliamentary History, xviii. 1319.These were the reasons assigned by Lord North for increasing the stamp duty, and subsequently, upon two occasions, a further increase took place under the Administration of Mr. Pitt, that Minister having looked upon newspapers pretty much in the light in which they were regarded by Lord North. He declared that they could be considered only as luxuries, and that for his own part, he felt no pain in making people pay dear for them. The last occasion upon which any increase in the duty took place was in 1815, when the stamp was raised to four-pence, upon each newspaper; and shortly afterwards, in 1819, under the same Administration, Lord Castlereagh passed the Six Acts, which did not indeed raise the stamp duty, but which imposed upon the proprietors of newspapers and other cheap periodicals the necessity of registration and of giving security. He called their attention to these features in the early history of the stamp duty on newspapers, because any objections to the present measure would be based partly, at least, on the ground of the abandonment of revenue which it would entail at a time most ill-suited for the purpose. He would admit that this was not a time to abandon revenue, but he denied that this question ought to be considered entirely or even mainly as a question of revenue. Hitherto it had not been so considered, and he contended that if any good cause could be presented to their Lordships which appeared to render desirable a change in the law, they ought not to be deterred from making that change because a question of the revenue was, to a certain extent, involved in it. The next change which took place in the law relating to newspaper stamps occurred in 1836, when the noble Lord below him (Lord Monteagle) was Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the stamp was then reduced from four-pence to its present amount of one-penny. He believed he was not misrepresenting the motives and the arguments used on that occasion when he said, that the penny then retained was avowedly so retained, not as a source of revenue, but as an equivalent for the postal service given by the State to the newspapers. If, then, while the duty on newspapers was retained at its former amount, the legislation on this subject was regarded, not as a question of revenue, but as a matter of literary police, and if when the penny stamp was introduced it was put 955 forward merely as a postal charge, surely it would be neither wise nor consistent in their Lordships, now that a change was proposed for the purpose of relieving the law from the anomalies, embarrassments, and, he might say, from the injustice which hampered its administration, to object to that change because a certain amount of revenue was involved in it. That such anomalies and inconveniences existed was unfortunately but too easily shown. They had arisen, he believed, partly from the unexpected and very varied growth of periodical publications since the time of those who first imposed these restrictions, and, partly, from the present complicated and, at the same time, very imperfect definition of a newspaper. In the first Act on the subject, passed in 1712, the definition given of a newspaper was "a paper containing public news, intelligence, or occurrences, printed in Great Britain, to be dispersed and made public." This definition pervaded all the Acts from that of Queen Anne to the measure of 1836; but it was not the only one. In 1819, at the time when Lord Castlereagh's Act was passed, the definition was enlarged, and was made to include pamphlets containing, as before, news, intelligence, or occurrences, and also "any comments or observations thereupon, or any matter of Church or State." At the same time the operation of the Act was limited to publications printed at intervals of less than twenty-six days, and there was also a limitation with respect to size and price. The only other important change in the definition was made five or six years later, when papers containing wholly or chiefly advertisements were also included among those rendered subject to duty. Here, therefore, were three several definitions of newspapers, all of them, with the exception of the words relating to Church or State, retained in the Act of 1836, and it could not be surprising if many inconveniences resulted from this state of things. As an example of the inconveniences which arose in consequence of this complicated state of the law, he might refer to the case of a monthly work conducted by Mr. Charles Dickens, called the Household Narrative, which, published more in the form of a pamphlet than of a newspaper, appeared for some time without a stamp. The Judges differed in opinion upon the law as applicable to that instance, and a measure was therefore passed through Parliament by which publications appearing 956 only at intervals of a month were ipso facto exempted from the operation of the Stamp Act. No sooner, however, was this inconvenience remedied than another arose from the issue of what were called "slips" by newspapers, which came out at irregular intervals between the ordinary publications, and escaped altogether the imposition of the stamp duty. The proprietors of other newspapers complained very naturally that their budget of news was anticipated by the issue of these "slips," and that they ought to be made subject to the existing stamp law; but, such was the difficulty of patching up an incongruous law, that the officers of the Crown had been unable from that time to this to deal with this question. Then another difficulty arose with regard to what are called "class newspapers." The Government decided that publications of this sort, which at first were very few in number, should be exempted from the stamp duty on the ground that they did not provide public intelligence in the ordinary acceptation of the term, and that the matter contained in them was evidently not contemplated in the law when first passed. These class publications continued to increase very rapidly in number down to the present time, when there were between 140 and 150 of them, published weekly upon almost every known science. Architecture, painting, horticulture, agriculture, and, in fact, nearly every subject had its own special publication. The consequence was that other newspers, jealous of that privilege, had sought to obtain it for themselves, by dealing with matters of a very different nature, but still in some sort confining themselves to one particular subject. The most remarkable instance of this was the issue of a number of such newspapers as The War Telegraph, The War News, the Army Despatch, and others, containing nothing but what related to the operations of the army abroad, and claiming, upon the ground of their abstinence from dealing with other subjects, the privileges of a class publication. In many cases the intimation that the law would be allowed to take its course against these publications had been sufficient to suppress them, but that had not been the case with all; and in one instance, the editor having refused to stop the issue, he had been proceeded against at law. The paper in question was an Irish publication, called The Commercial Journal and Family Herald; and, though 957 it did not wholly exclude matters of general intelligence, it described itself to be a paper of a literary character. The particular copy of the Commercial Journal upon which proceedings had been taken contained, in all, twenty-four columns of matter, namely—nine of advertisements, four of news, and eleven of what might be called literature. The case was tried before the Court of Exchequer in Ireland, and the jury returned a verdict for the defendant, thereby intimating an opinion that, though the paper did contain some news, it was, nevertheless, not a newspaper, the general contents being of a different character. That verdict was taken up very eagerly by the abolitionists of the newspaper stamp duty, who looked upon it as conclusive; and it was impossible to deny that the verdict thus given had greatly increased the difficulties of the Executive. So far, with regard to the inconvenience to which the Executive had boon exposed by the imperfections of the law; but there was another point in which the law showed itself faulty, to which he must briefly allude. The proprietors of class publications soon found that, to a certain extent, the use of the stamp and its consequent postal privileges might be of service to them; and, therefore, while claiming broadly and generally for their publications, the liberty of going unstamped, they at the same time put forward a claim to stamp such copies as they might desire to send through the post. Now the declaration that the parties were about to publish a newspaper, which was made use of at the Stamp Office in order to obtain stamped paper, was not held to be sufficient evidence that the publication in question was a newspaper; and hence it was no uncommon thing for printers and publishers and others to make that declaration, and to obtain the stamp to reports and matters of that description, which thus went free through the post. He held in his hand a pamphlet containing the report of a society, of which several right rev. Prelates were patrons and presidents, which bore the newspaper stamp, which could only have been impressed there upon the declaration of the printer, publisher, or secretary, that it was a newspaper. Neither the Government nor any constituted authority had the power of restraining these proceedings. This being the anomalous state of the law, it was not, he thought, a matter of much surprise that a strong feeling should have been expressed in quarters, 958 to which much deference was due, in favour of some change in that law. The last Committee of the House of Commons which had the subject under consideration, and which sat in 1851, directed the attention of Parliament to the objections and abuses incident to the system of newspaper stamps, arising from the difficulty of defining and determining the meaning of the term "news" to the inequalities which existed in the application of the Newspaper Stamp Act, and to the anomalies and evasions which it occasioned in postal arrangements. The next notice winch was taken of the matter by the House of Commons was in the last Session of Parliament, when a long and elaborate debate took place which resulted in the passing of a Resolution to the following effect—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 deserves the early consideration of Parliament.In that opinion the Government acquiesced, and they accordingly lost no time after the Resolution had passed in taking the matter into consideration, and the result of that consideration was the Bill which was now upon the table of the House. It was not necessary, he presumed, to show to their Lordships that, an alteration being required it was absolutely essential that it should he in the form of relaxation and not of restriction. He had, indeed, heard it said that the most wholesome Amendment would have been one in the nature of restriction, by rendering the law more stringent and thoroughly operative than it was at present, more especially since the revenue would suffer from relaxation. He did not think that any of their Lordships, however, would seriously contend, after the liberty which the press had enjoyed so long, and after the tastes and habits which that liberty had fostered, that it would be possible now to put further restrictions and fetters upon the press, even if the stamp law could be enforced as it at present stood. That being the case, the Government had no hesitation as to the direction which the measure should take. The measure now proposed enacted that hereafter there should be no stamp compulsory upon newspapers; and the abolition of that requirement would remove what had been a fertile source of embarrassment to all Governments—the definition of what was a newspaper. A 959 clean sweep would be made in that direction; but inasmuch as the law at present was not in all respects unfavourable to newspapers, which enjoyed certain privileges which, perhaps, if the matter were to be wholly reconstructed, might not be granted, but which, as they existed, it would not be advisable to entirely abolish;—therefore newspapers would be allowed the option of using a stamp as the price to be paid, not for a single transmission through the Post Office, but for several retransmissions. Those papers which were printed upon unstamped paper, and, consequently, not now falling within the cognisance of the Board of Inland Revenue, were now conveyed at the usual letter-post charges; but, as soon as this Act should be passed, that subject would be considered with a view of constructing such a tariff as would enable printed publications to pass through the Post Office at a minimum rate of one penny for four ounces. He was aware that apprehensions had been expressed lest the additional freedom and increased facilities offered for the publication of periodicals should lead to the country being inundated with seditious, if not worse than seditious, publications, which would lower the tone of the press and tend to excite demoralisation and discontent among the community. Great evils had been talked of as likely to ensue, and reference was made to the American press to justify those apprehensions. He confessed that he was far from sharing in those apprehensions, which, he thought, argued some want of consideration and of candour on the part of those who expressed those fears. He believed that if the character of the press were minutely investigated it would be found that the most demoralising newspapers had not been unstamped, or penny publications, but stamped sheets; their existence had been but brief—but he believed that, in the cases of all those papers, which were most objectionable in their tendency and most mischievous in their effects, the purchasers were rather to be found among the higher classes of society than among the lower. With regard to the example of the American press, so often quoted, he did not think the state of things prevalent in the United States was likely to arise among us by the removal of the stamp; and he thought a great deal might be said in defence of a large portion of that press, the failings of which had, he thought, been exaggerated. It must be recollected that there was a great difference 960 between the characteristics of the two nations. America was a young country, her people were democratic in principle, energetic in habits, and active in politics. He thought a more faithful index of the results likely to flow from the proposed change in the law would be found in the press of our Australian colonies. There the press was free as in America—there had never been any restrictions. In Victoria alone there were, he believed, no less than seven or eight daily newspapers, and seven or eight weekly. The only one which he had been able recently to see, and which he believed was the best conducted of them, with the largest circulation, was the Melbourne Argus. That paper was nearly the size of The Times, and was published at the price of 2½d., he believed—certainly the price did not exceed 3d.—and a short time since it was even less. It circulated about 11,000 or 12,000 a day, and, although at present it was not conducted with all the intelligence and talent which distinguished the principal papers of this country, yet so far as he had seen, it was in tone, temper, and language, quite as unexceptionable as our own journals. He was told that the same remark would apply to all the journals of the Australian colonies generally. He should abstain from entering upon details at present as to the intentions of the Government with respect to the terms upon which unstamped papers should be carried by the Post Office. That was a matter which did not fall within the scope of the Bill, and was a matter which the Postmaster General, in conjunction with the Lords of the Treasury, could settle by warrant quite independently of Parliament. He had stated generally the intentions of the Government, and, upon going into Committee, he should be prepared to give their Lordships any further information which they might require. There remained one point upon which, although not mentioned in the Bill, he should wish to say a few words—he referred to the subject of copyright. Great alarm had been expressed that the calling into existence a number of fresh newspapers, to be conducted upon small capital compared with the capital employed by the existing journals, would lead to a mischievous system of piracy, which would seriously affect the interests of newspapers already established. This question excited a good deal of interest in the House of Commons, and Her Majesty's Government consequently 961 thought it their duty to frame certain clauses with a view to the protection of newspapers against piracy; his right hon. Friend, however, who had charge of the measure in the House of Commons had found himself unable to frame a clause, in terms acceptable to the House, and he must say he was not surprised at, nor did he regret their rejection. He was not surprised at it, because any one who had given their attention to the subject would remember that this was not the first time that this question had been agitated in Parliament, and that upon a former occasion copyright clauses had been abandoned, notwithstanding which very little inconvenience had been felt by newspapers on this head from 1836 to the present time; and, probably, had the framers of the provision succeeded in their endeavours on that occasion, there would have been no less reason for complaint than at present. He did not regret the decision of the House of Commons on the present occasion, because it appeared to him that, as far as copyright was needed, the law, as it at present existed, provided an effectual remedy for its infringement, though it might not do so very conveniently or summarily. There were two sorts of articles in newspapers peculiarly liable to be copied by other papers—leading articles, and pure announcements of facts. The former were copied rather for their literary merit and the intelligence, general knowledge and information they displayed, than for the announcement of any new facts, and there was very little difficulty in tracing the theft; besides which, to render such copying in any way injurious to the newspaper from which the leading articles were copied, it was necessary that the copying should be continuous, and for that an effectual remedy might be obtained by injunction in the Court of Chancery. Of course, it was perfectly competent for Parliament to render that remedy more easily obtainable, but he did not see that it was necessary to introduce clauses into this Bill for that purpose. With respect to the pirating of mere announcements of facts, he doubted very much whether any Bill could be framed which would prevent the immediate copying and circulation of news in such a country as this, even if the object were one of unquestioned expediency and utility. It was all very well to say, if we give large powers to particular individuals, we will trust to their good sense not to press them too far; but that was neither a wise nor a 962 safe principle of legislation, and, unless there was an absolute necessity for it, they had better abstain from adopting it. As he had said before, leading articles could not be much disguised, for if the words were very much changed the article would lose the greater part of its value; it was a composition which could not be dealt with in that manner. But it was quite the contrary as respected the bald announcement of a fact which might be conveyed in a few words, but the form of which might be changed in a variety of ways. There would be the greatest difficulty in tracing piracy in such cases, and, supposing the powers contemplated by the clause in question were given, it would require the greatest discretion and forbearance in their exercise, otherwise much mischief might be done, and innocent persons, who never intended to infringe the Act, might be put to considerable expense in defending themselves in actions brought against them. Apart, however, from this objection, he had serious doubts whether this was a sort of property which ought to be protected. He could better understand why it should have been so considered some years ago, when the expense of collecting the intelligence published by newspapers was very great, when special couriers were employed, at a heavy cost, and when it was only those who had great command of capital who could obtain the facilities required for its collection and transmission. The times, however, had changed. Telegraphic communications from abroad were daily sent to numerous persons in this country at the trifling expense of a few shillings, and those persons might either publish the intelligence so received themselves or give it to others to publish. Very great doubt, therefore, would exist whether articles of intelligence which appeared in newspapers, and which persons were charged with copying from other publications, had been so copied; and it would be unjust, upon a mere suspicion that they had been, to put parties to the expense of proving that they had not. In his opinion, no benefit which would result from a copyright would be sufficient to compensate for the restrictions and restraints under which persons would feel themselves in using intelligence transmitted by the electric telegraph. He should, therefore, conclude by urging their Lordships to give the measure a favourable consideration. It had been calculated that the loss to the revenue by the adoption of 963 the present measure would not be much under 150,000l. a year; but he thought there was every ground to anticipate that that loss would be compensated in some measure by the charges for the transmission of newspapers by the post; and therefore, notwithstanding the financial objections which had been urged against it, he ventured, upon social and political grounds, to ask their Lordships to assent to the second reading of this Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
§ LORD MONTEAGLE
said, that having had occasion when Chancellor of the Exchequer to effect large changes in the Newspaper Stamp Duties, he felt it his duty to state his objections to the present measure. But before proceeding to the consideration of the Bill itself, he would lay a foundation for the main objections he intended to urge against the measure, by calling the attention of the House to the financial condition of the country at the peculiarity of the time when they were called upon to make a large, and what he believed to be an uncalled-for and unnecessary sacrifice of the public revenue—a sacrifice not only uncalled-for, but unwise, and, in some respects, unjust, particularly in reference to the mode in which it was proposed to be carried into effect. The noble Lord who had just sat down need not feel apprehensive that he was about to found his objection to the measure on the grounds to which he had first adverted, namely, the moral and political objections that had been entertained on the subject by the statesmen of past times. He did not advocate the continuation of the tax on any such grounds. He did not mean to argue that any mischief, either moral or political, would result from the relaxation of the present law. Indeed he was precluded from doing so, because it was his opinion that, since the year 1836, when he had himself reduced the tax from 4d. to 1d., there had been a marked, though gradual, improvement in the tone and temper of the newspaper and periodical press. This, no doubt, was mainly attributable to the better feeling and taste and to the more extended education of the public. The press derived its character from the character of the people among whom it circulated, and it must necessarily suit itself to the feelings of the people by whom public journals were read. Still, he thought their Lordships ought to pause before they adopted so great a financial change as that 964 which was now proposed; for, although the usages between the two Houses of Parliament were such as to preclude their Lordships from dealing with the subject in a practical way by rejecting the Bill, still they ought not, under the present circumstances of the country, to allow such a measure to pass without adverting to the consequences which might possibly follow from its adoption. The noble Lord himself appeared to be fully aware of the force of these objections. The fact was, that the country was not at present in a position to make so great a sacrifice of revenue as that which the present Bill required. They had not a surplus revenue to deal with—they were not even in a position to support the public establishments from the revenue as it stood—they were not in a condition to go into the market as borrowers without at the same time feeling themselves constrained to impose new and heavy taxation on the country. In taking these steps, therefore, which the Government had done for raising money, and which he believed they were justified in doing by the peculiar exigencies of the present time, they unreservedly admitted that they possessed no excess of resources; and, therefore, were not in a situation to place at risk so large a sum as would be affected by the measure now before their Lordships. There never had been a period when a greater amount of public spirit had been evinced by the House of Commons than was displayed at the present moment in their readiness to support the Government at any sacrifice. So far as taxation and credit went, the national purse had been placed unreservedly at the command of Her Majesty's Government; there had been no hesitation in granting whatever amount was felt to be just and necessary. There might have been entertained some jealousy with respect to the prudence with which enormous funds, placed at the disposal of the Government, had been applied. It might have been thought that there had been a lavish waste of public money in comparison with the services which had been provided for; even he himself was of opinion that there were many cases in which some evidence might be adduced to warrant such an impression. But, notwithstanding the feeling of discontent which had been felt, and which, he feared, was not wholly without justice, the House of Commons, still tine to its principle as to the necessity of giving every aid that the war could require, had refused 965 the Government no one vote; but, on the contrary, had placed all the resources of the State at its entire disposal and control. Under these circumstances their Lordships ought to hesitate before they sacrificed the permanent taxation of the country. In proportion as public necessities were great, in proportion too as the Government were lavish, it behoved Parliament to be prudent, and to put a curb upon any disposition that might be felt in any quarter, by repealing permanent taxes, in order to conciliate a popular cry that was not worth the breath wasted upon it. He would now call the attention of the House to the progress of the expenditure of the country; which, he ventured to say, was unexampled in the history of the nation. In 1835, the whole supply voted amounted to 14,123,000l.; the average sum voted in the three years, 1851, 1852, and 1853 was 20,018,000l.; in the year 1854 it had increased to 38,141,000l.; and in 1855 to 50,067,000l. There had been an increase, in 1855, of 35,000,000l. as compared with 1835; of 30,000,000l. as compared with the averages of 1851, 1852, and 1853; and of 11,900,000l. as compared with 1854. With facts like these before them, would their Lordships be justified in making a sacrifice of public money to the extent of 485,000l. a year, being the amount which last year, on account of this tax, passed into the office of the Inland Revenue. His noble Friend (Earl Granville) had assumed somewhat gratuitously that the loss of revenue by the repeal of this tax would only be 150,000l. No proof was offered in support of this assertion. But the real question was not the amount of estimated loss, but the certain amount of revenue that would be brought into jeopardy. They had recently borrowed 16,000,000l., partly raised on annuity, partly a permanent debt. The newspaper stamp, which produced 485,000l. represented pretty accurately the interest on the permanent debt which they had contracted in the course of the present year. If they left this amount of revenue as it was, they would have had a sum arising from the newspaper stamp duties countervailing, as accurately as might be, the whole amount of the interest on the Three per Cent stock which they were now called upon to create. He contended that it was not well to sacrifice a permanent revenue at the moment when we were compelled to contract a permanent debt. He contended that the Bill was 966 uncalled for, and that it was not desired by those who were most interested in the question—namely, the newspaper proprietors throughout the country. Had the proprietors of, or those interested in, newspapers, called upon Parliament to relieve them from this tax, because they conceived it to be oppressive or injurious to their interests? No such thing; and he believed that this was the only instance in which Parliament had been called upon to make a sacrifice of public revenue when the parties now paying the tax, proposed to be repealed, humbly and respectfully entreated the Legislature to let them alone. The clamour that had been raised for the repeal of the newspaper stamp was a clamour got up by a few interested persons, and to that clamour their Lordships were called upon to yield, and to make a sacrifice of revenue of nearly half a million a year. Perhaps he might be charged with inconsistency in urging this argument. Perhaps it might be said, seeing that he had had the honour of reducing a tax upon newspapers in 1836, which was then four-fold the amount of the present tax, that he ought not to quarrel with the proposition now made. But the cases were entirely different; and he would show their Lordships in what important principle they differed. In the case in which he had proposed his reduction to 1d., the tax being excessive led to the most undisguised violation of the law that had ever taken place in any civilised society. The duty of 4d. was an extravagant duty, and produced a system of smuggling which extended over the whole country. This was met by a resolute determination on the part of the Government to put it down; and in one single day, in the office of an unlicensed and unstamped newspaper, the unfinished impression of a newspaper was seized, equal, in point of numbers, to the whole of the stamped newspapers issued in London on that day. But all such efforts were ineffectual. Prosecutions, fines, imprisonments, were alike failures. It was felt to be unjust to continue a system which gave to those who violated the law an advantage over those who obeyed it. The unstamped press had all the essentials of a vicious press. Under such circumstances it was thought better to reduce the duty, and the parties interested readily submitted to a tax of one penny, which they considered a just and reasonable arrangement, the postal privileges given them being deemed fully equivalent to the duty of 1d. paid. The reduction of duty annihilated 967 the smuggler. In the three years before the reduction of duty there were 163 imprisonments for an evasion of the law, but in the three years ending in 1851 after the reduction, there was not one single imprisonment. As a financial measure it had also been successful, because the circulation of newspapers had been greatly increased by the reduction. In 1833 the number of stamps issued was 32,000,000; in 1854 it was 111,000,000, and the stamp duty, though reduced to nearly one-fourth of the rate previously paid, now produced 460,000l., as compared to 533,000l. in 1833. He thought Her Majesty's Government were now gratuitously and unwisely calling upon Parliament to forfeit this revenue. He was, however, far from holding the present Chancellor of the Exchequer mainly responsible for this, as an engagement to reduce the duty had been entered into before the right hon. Gentleman's accession to office. Another point deserved consideration. There was the question as to protecting the property of individuals who were engaged in this great commercial enterprise. In 1836 he had brought forward no copyright provision, because none was pressed for; but the case was wholly different now. In 1836, the penny stamp was still left upon all newspapers, but the danger now apprehended was piracy by parties who were not required to contribute to the revenue at all; the nonexistence of piracy while the penny stamp was continued was no argument whatever against the necessity of obtaining some protection under the law as it was proposed to make it for the benefit of parties who expended their capital in what, no doubt, was a commercial speculation, but one from which all their Lordships profitted, and which was productive of the greatest possible advantages to the country. If the present mode of conducting their business were made unprofitable, it was quite clear that the proprietors of a newspaper would not persevere in it, and he did not think it wise to adopt a course which would have any such effect. He had been told that the expenditure of the press for intelligence and foreign correspondence was no longer requisite. He might be told that a five shilling message could be sent by electric telegraph, containing all the information that was required; but a great deal more than such cheap and simple arrangements was necessary—there must be an intelligent party selected to find the information and to communicate it to some 968 person capable of turning it to account; if, immediately after publication, valuable information was taken from the person who had acquired and purchased it, if it were then made use of for the benefit of a plagiarist by underselling the real author, he (Lord Monteagle) did not think that was just or defensible. On these grounds, but mainly on account of financial considerations, he thought it inexpedient to remit this tax, the repeal of which was not asked for by any but a small and insignificant section of the community. In Scotland, for example, the whole of the newspaper proprietors met together, and stated, in his judgment most truly, but that which the noble Lord who had charge of the Bill seemed to think a fallacy—namely, that they did not regard the stamp duty on newspapers as being in any respect as a tax upon knowledge, but rather a return for postal privileges; and one of the witnesses examined before the House of Commons Committee declared that, if the newspaper proprietors throughout England were polled, not one out of ten would be in favour of the proposed repeal. This, he believed, to be perfectly true. The clamour raised against this tax was got up on the fallacious ground that it was a tax upon knowledge, and the friends of education were especially invited to assist in its removal; but he looked upon this argument as a vulgar clap-trap. If the 480,000l. produced by the stamp duties had been spent upon the encouragement of education strictly so called, could any man doubt that it would have been more beneficially employed? He was opposed to the abolition of this tax, because he thought it an inopportune moment to do so when they were imposing other taxes which pressed heavily upon the food of the people, and when they were borrowing 16,000,000l. to defray the extraordinary expenditure of the country, and he was opposed to it likewise as most unjustly pressing on the interests involved and capital now invested in the newspaper press of the United Kingdom.
§ VISCOUNT CANNING
said, that although the noble Lord had stated certain objections to the measure, his general sentiments were in accordance in many respects with his own. The noble Lord had not made any allusion to the main ground on which he proposed the Bill, which was that the law which imposed the tax was no longer workable. There was not a single day on which the Government would not be called upon to take proceedings against some 969 offender. The Government were guilty of no laches in this respect; yet they had found that they could not carry out the law. Nothing was more calculated to bring the law into contempt than to retain on the statute book enactments which could not be enforced. It was said that there had been few petitions from newspaper proprietors in favour of this measure. This might be true, but it in no way affected the justice of the question. It would be remembered that not many shipowners petitioned for the alteration of the navigation laws, nor many farmers for the repeal of the corn laws.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House To-morrow.
Protest of Lord MONTEAGLE against the Third Reading of the Newspaper Stamp Duties Bill.
Dissentient.—Firstly—Because it is inconsistent with the most obvious principles of financial policy to endanger a permanent annual income like that produced by the stamp duty on newspapers, and which nearly amounts to 500,000l., at a time when the country is engaged in a formidable war, and when the necessities of the public service have rendered it necessary to contract a loan of 16,000,000l. during the present Session.
Secondly—Because the annual amount of revenue thus placed at risk by the ill-advised repeal of the stamp duty upon newspapers would, if retained, have been sufficient to provide for the interest of the permanent debt contracted during the present Session, or would have lessened the necessity of imposing increased and oppressive burdens on the people.
Thirdly—Because the inexpediency of this sacrifice of permanent income becomes still more apparent at a period like the present, when, in addition to the loan contracted, Parliament has also been compelled to increase the income tax, as well as the duties of Customs and Excise levied on articles of the first necessity, diminishing the command of the industrious population over the comforts and necessaries of life, checking the progress of our commercial relations, and restricting the foreign markets for our manufactures.
Fourthly—Because such a sacrifice of taxation is the less called for when, as in the present instance, it is applied to a branch of the revenue increasing steadily in amount from year to year, and thereby demonstrating that its pressure has not acted injuriously to the public interests.
Fifthly—Because the proposed repeal of the stamp duty on newspapers, so far from being sought for as a relief to the class of newspaper proprietors whose interests are primarily involved in the question, is, on the contrary, earnestly deprecated by them, as being likely to lead (through an unjust and unchecked piracy) to the depreciation of their capital and the sacrifice of their commercial interests.
Sixthly—Because no attempt has been made by the Legislature, as justice required, to protect such parties from these severe anticipated losses, which, if they should take place by the reduction of the just profits of industry (the result of
a fraudulent competition), may lessen the motives and the means of newspaper proprietors for procuring and communicating trustworthy information, thus reacting mischievously upon public and private interests by limiting and defeating the most useful functions of a free and intelligent press.
Seventhly—Because the loss of permanent income produced by the present Bill cannot but throw obstacles in the way of the future reduction of the war taxes on the restoration of peace, to which the faith of Parliament stands solemnly pledged to the people of the United Kingdom.
§ "MONTEAGLE OF BRANDON."
§ House adjourned till To-morrow.