HL Deb 23 July 1860 vol 160 cc4-10

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of this Bill, which had come up from the Commons, said that it dealt only with the 39 Geo. III., c. 79, the 60 Geo. III., c. 9, and the I Will. IV., c. 73. It did not interfere with or alter the Acts which required that newspapers should be registered at Somerset House, and that the name of the printer should appear to each publication. It repealed a part of the first-mentioned Act, of 1799, by which debates were prohibited in houses without a previous licence, and by which printers, type-founders, and printing-pressmakers were compelled to obtain certificates from the clerk of the peace before they proceeded to carry on business. The second Act to which he had referred was one of the celebrated Six Acts passed in 1819, which brought such odium on the Government as being encroachments on the ancient freedom of the country; by its provisions securities were, for the first time, exacted from publishers. By the third Act, which was passed in 1830, the securities which were by the Act of 1819 required from publishers were to some extent modified. But, although such statutes might be defended in times of revolutionary agitation, they had now outlived the fears and passions by which they were created, and, as the stamp laws had been abrogated, these securities had been practically nullified. The only question raised by the Bill was, consequently, whether those enactments should not be altogether abrogated. The Bill had received the unanimous approval of the other House, and he therefore trusted their Lordships would give it a second reading.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


reminded the noble Lord that the Bill had passed the other House on more than one occasion with scarcely any discussion upon its merits. It was originally introduced into the House of Commons by the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) in March, 1859, and his hon. and learned Friend the then Solicitor General (Sir Hugh Cairns) stated that there were some portions of it to which objections might be taken. The Bill was read a second time without the least discussion, and went into Committee; but was ultimately withdrawn in consequence of the approaching dissolution. After the new Parliament met, it was again introduced, and having been read a third time on the 19th of July, 1859, it came up to their Lordships on the 21st, but was dropped in consequence of the termination of the Session. The Bill was re-introduced at the commencement of the present Session, scarcely a word being 3aid about it, and there could have been little discussion subsequently, for it came up to their Lordships' House as early as the 7th of February; but from that day until now it had lain on their table without any noble Lord thinking it his duty to move the second reading. Under those circumstances it was necessary to look carefully to the Bill in order to see what provisions it repealed. It proposed to repeal the sections from 15 to 33 of the 39 George III. These sections might be divided into two distinct classes. First, sections from 15 to 22, which were directed against houses and places where meetings were held for the purpose of debates and lectures, and which enacted that if money were taken for the admission of persons such houses and places must be licensed by a magistrate. There was also a rather curious provision to the effect that houses licensed for the sale of ale, beer, wines, and spirituous liquors should be considered as places licensed for the purpose of reading books, newspapers, pamphlets, and other publications. Those provisions were made at a time of public danger, when stringent measures were required to prevent seditious meetings; but as all such danger had happily passed away, he saw no objection whatever to their repeal. But sections 22 to 33 were of a different character. They required that a printer or typefounder should give notice to the clerk of the peace of his intention to commence business. That notice was sent to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and afterwards the certificate to carry on business was issued by the clerk of the peace, without which any such printer or typefounder was liable to a penalty. To show how little attention had been paid in the preparation of this Bill, it proposed to repeal provisions in the 39th George III. which were already repealed by the 2 & 3 Vict. c. 12, but a printer was still required to put his name to all papers which he printed. There was another very important clause in the 39th of George III. between the 22nd and 33rd sections, which empowered all persons to seize any one distributing or posting bills to which no printer's name was attached, and to take him before a magistrate, in order that the magistrate might hear and determine the case; From his experience at the bar he knew that it was very common for libellers to employ persons to distribute their libels without a printer's name, and it would be impossible to detest them if the persons so distributing the papers could not be at once taken before a magistrate and required to state by whom they were employed. He therefore strongly objected to that clause being repealed. He had also a decided objection to the proposed repeal of the 6Oth Geo. III. c. 9, which referred entirely to newspapers, and contained a clause of great importance, requiring printers and publishers, before publishing a newspaper, to enter into recognizances by which they were to be bound in a certain sum to be answerable for any fine or penalty which they might incur in the event of their being convicted for a blasphemous or seditious libel. He considered this a very important clause, and he should be sorry to see it repealed. The same Act contained a clause empowering a Judge, when a person was brought before him to give bail for a blasphemous or seditious libel, to make it a condition of the recognizance that the party should be of good behaviour during the terms of his recognizance. These were provisions that he did not desire to see repealed. Under a subsequent Act, the whole of which it was proposed to repeal, except the first section, there was a clause connected wit the 60th of George III, which provided that where a person had obtained damages against the publisher of a newspaper for libel, and was unable to obtain satisfaction against his goods and chattels, he could apply to the Court of Exchequer, and the Court might direct that the recognizances might be used for the purposes of satisfying the damages that had been awarded. The present Bill, however, proposed to repeal that clause. A Bill that repealed so many important provisions of the 39th of George III, the whole of the 60th of George III, and the whole of the 11th of George IV. and 1st of William IV., except the first clause, deserved the careful consideration of their Lordships. As there were certain clauses of the 39th George III. that ought to be repealed, it would perhaps be desirable to read the Bill a second time. Perhaps it would be desirable, however, in Committee to confine the Bill to the repeal of these clauses in the 39th George III., and to omit the other provisions of the Bill.


trusted their Lordships would not hesitate to give the Bill a second reading. It proposed to repeal enactments that were a dead letter and discreditable to the age. How far their Lordships would carry out these repeals was a matter for consideration. As to those enactments that were obsolete it would be as well that they should be repealed. Under these circumstances, he trusted they would allow the Bill to be read a second time, and they could then deal with the details in Committee.


said, that the Bill proposed to repeal certain enactments without stating what the effect of such repeal would be. Had their Lordships the least notion what they were asked to do by this Bill! He ventured to say they had not. Their Lordships were therefore indebted to the noble and learned Lord (Lord Chelmsford) for going through the provisions of the Bill so carefully, and giving them all the information they possessed upon the subject. This Bill came up to their Lordships' House more than four months ago, but until that afternoon when the Bill was put down for a second reading, he had not looked into the Acts of Parliament proposed to be repealed. The conviction he had arrived at was that the repeal of many of these enactments would be most impolitic and injurious. There was for example, nothing more reasonable than that persons publishing newspapers should give security that they would not be guilty of private malice. He had declined to take charge of this Bill, because, as a general rule, he objected to the introduction of any measure which did not bear on its face an intimation of its object and effect. In certain cases, that might perhaps be dispensed with, as in a Bill to repeal all the statutes which were consolidated in a general Act, or a vast mass of practically obsolete enactments. But in the attempt to make legislation simple—a very desirable object in itself—they must take care they did not expose themselves to the old charge—Brevis esse laboro, obscurus fio. Except to any one who took the trouble to refer to the statute-book, the present measure was quite unintelligible.


hoped that, if the second reading was agreed to the Bill would be referred to a Select Committee, so as to make its provisions clearer than they were at present.


considered that if the Bill was altered in Committee they would have to recite all the provisions that were repealed, and that would involve not only the alteration of the entire Bill, but its title also. Under the circumstances he thought it would be better to withdraw the Bill.


said, he had no doubt the noble Lord who had moved the second reading would consent to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, but he hoped he would not withdraw it. It was of great importance that a number of these enactments should be repealed, and as the House of Commons had twice sent up a Bill with that object, it would scarcely be respectful to that House to dismiss the present Bill in a summary manner. When only a single clause was to he repealed it might be very well to recite it in the preamble, but there would be a great deal of difficulty and inconvenience in doing so where whole Acts were concerned.


observed that as there was no urgent necessity for the Bill it had better be withdrawn in order to be amended.


considered that while it would be hard to insist on a withdrawal of the Bill, it would not be expedient to accumulate Committees. Now that they had heard the objections, some in substance and others in form, probably the most satisfactory course would be to read the Bill a second time, and perhaps with the assistance of the noble and learned Lord on the woolsack the Bill might be rendered useful.


said, that he was the first person requested to take charge of the Bill in their Lordships' House. On examination, however, he found that it gave no information as to the nature of the Acts to be repealed, and he, therefore, declined to adopt it. He was not disposed to oppose the second reading, but hoped the noble Lord would afterwards omit those provisions to which objection had been taken.


pointed out that as the short title of the Bill was only "Newspapers, &c," all that could be left, if they struck out the clauses relating to newspapers, would be "&c, Bill." If the noble Lord thought he could make anything of the Bill under the circumstances, it might be read a second time and committed pro formâ.


said, it appeared that the Bill had gone from one noble Lord to another before any one could be got to take charge of it. He had himself referred to the statute-book to ascertain what were the enactments to be repealed, and he was of opinion that it would be imprudent to repeal some of those which were of a penal character. He thought the noble Lord had better withdraw the Bill, and introduce it in an amended form next Session.


said, it was impossible for him consistently with the usages of Parliament, or the duty he owed to the measure, to withdraw the Motion for the second reading of the Bill, which would not preclude its reference to a Select Committee, or its ultimate rejection. The noble and learned Lord (Lord Chelmsford) had stated, with greater confidence than accuracy, that this Bill had passed the other House with no consideration, and he was justified in opposing a respectful contradiction to this by referring the noble Lord to the Debates of 1859. In that Session the measure was fully discussed, and a distinct understanding was arrived at, and one of the assenting parties was the Solicitor General. It was incorrect, then, to say that in the other House of Parliament this Bill had received no consideration, and under the circumstances, he asked their Lordships to read the Bill a second time upon the understanding that by so doing they should not be committed to any particular provisions in it, leaving the details to be considered in Committee.


had hoped his noble Friend would have given a pledge that he would alter the Bill in Committee as he had suggested; but as he declined to do so he had no alternative but to move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day month.

Amendment moved. To leave out ("now") and insert ("this Day Month.")

On question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? their Lordships divided:—Contents 10; Not-Contents 36: Majority 26.

Resolved in the negative, and Bill to be read 2a on this day month.

Campbell, L. (L. Chancellor.) Cranworth, L. [Teller.]
Llanover, L.
Caithness, E. Minster, L. (M. Conyngham.)
De Grey, E.
Granville, E. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Spencer, E. Stratheden, L. [Teller.]
Somerset, D. Melville, V.
Airlie, E. Sydney, V.
Amherst, E. Torrington, V.
Carnarvon, E. Bolton, L.
Cawdor, E. Calthorpe, L.
Doncaster, E. (D. of Buccleuch & Queensberry.) Chelmsford, L. [Teller.]
Churchill, L.
Churston, L.
Ellesmere, E. Colchester, L.
Hardwicke, E. Denman, L.
Lonsdale, E. Foley, L.
Lucan, E. Mostyn, L.
Malmesbury, E. Portman, L.
Mayo, E. Ravensworth, L.
Powis, E. Redesdale, L.
Romney, E. Silchester, L. (E. Longford.)
Shrewsbury, E.
Eversley, V. Templemore, L.
Hutchinson, V. (E. Donoughmore.) [Teller.] Wodehouse, L.
Wynford, L.