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ART. V.-Report from the Select Committee on Newspaper Stamps. Ordered by the House of Commons to be Printed 18th July, 1851.

AMIDST all that deluge of blue books which the Parliamentary press is continually pouring forth, to the great horror of Colonel Sibthorp and his friends, there has seldom appeared one possessing such claims to public notice as the Report from the Select Committee on Newspapers, with the accompanying evidence, small as the acceptance of these documents has been among the daily papers. The committee, as will be remembered, was appointed last April, on the motion of Mr. Milner Gibson, to inquire into the present state and operation of the law relating 'to newspaper stamps, and also into the law and regulations rela'tive to the transmission of newspaper and other publications by 'post.' It consisted of the following members:-Sir William Molesworth, Sir Thomas Frankland Lewis, Sir Joshua Walmsley, Colonel Mure, Mr. Cobden, Mr. Gibson, Mr. Ewart, Mr. Tuffnell, Mr. Ker Seymer, Mr. Rich, Mr. Stafford, Mr. G. A. Hamilton, Mr. Chichester Fortescue, Mr Shafto Adair, and Mr. Sotheron; but as neither Sir William Molesworth, Mr. Ker Seymer, nor Colonel Mure, appear to have attended any of the meetings of committee, their names may as well be struck off the list. Those who attended most punctually were-Mr. Milner Gibson, chairman of the committee, Mr. Cobden, Mr. Ewart, and Sir Joshua Walmsley. The principal witnesses examined were Mr. Joseph Timm, solicitor to the Board of Inland Revenue; Mr. T. Keogh, assistant secretary to the Board of Inland Revenue; Mr. Rowland Hill, secretary to the Post-master General; Mr. R. Parkhurst, senior clerk in the secretary's office of the Post Office; Mr. Bokenham, superintending president of the Inland Post Office; Mr. W. E. Jackson, late editor of the Westminster Review; Mr. Mowbray Morris, manager of the Times; Mr. F. K. Hunt, editor of the Daily News; Mr. John Cassell, newspaper publisher and proprietor; Mr. Alexander Russell, editor of the Scotsman; Mr. Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune; Mr. W. H. Smith, newspaper agent, London; Mr. Abel Heywood, newspaper agent, Manchester; Mr. Whitty, editor and proprietor of the Liverpool Journal; Mr. C. D. Collett, secretary to the Newspaper Stamp Abolition Society; Mr. T. Hogg, secretary to the Lancashire and Cheshire Union of Mechanics' Institutions; the Reverend Thomas Spencer; and Mr. Henry Cole. Most of these witnesses were examined at

considerable length, and as the greater number of them were thoroughly conversant with the newspaper trade, their evidence contains a large mass of interesting information on the subject, from which many valuable deductions may be obtained.

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The committee commenced its labours by subjecting the two official representatives of the Board of Inland Revenue to a rather severe examination, with a view to ascertain their opinion of what the law for regulating the publication of newspapers actually is. On this point Mr. Timm, solicitor to the Board, was quite as explicit as any lawyer could be upon so complicated a question. First of all, he stated that any person who prints a paper liable to stamp duty as a newspaper, on unstamped paper, incurs a penalty of 201. for every copy thus published. This seems very plain at first sight, but then comes the puzzling question as to what constitutes liability to pay the penny stamp duty. Mr. Timm is utterly unable to see any difficulty in the case. The practice of the Board has always been to consider any paper containing public news, intelligence, or other occurrences, 'printed in any part of the United Kingdom, to be dispersed and 'made public, as liable to stamp duty.' Now, although we must admit that this is a very comprehensive definition of what is to be considered a newspaper, it is very far from being precise. It turns out also that the Board has not had quite so much confidence in the clause as to apply it without discrimination. Many publications containing a considerable quantity of news are not deemed liable to the duty, although published weekly; while humbler periodicals not containing news, and published only once a month, have been put down by the arbitrary mandate of the Board, which thus usurps the odious un-English character of a literary censorship. The Athenæum, the Builder, the Legal Observer, the Architect, and some forty or fifty other weekly papers of a mixed character, are all at liberty to publish without the stamp duty; while cheap periodicals, though only published once in four weeks, and with much less resemblance to newspapers, have been given up, in consequence of a threatened prosecution by the Stamp Office authorities. It is so far satisfactory, however, that, since the Committee terminated its labours, the highest legal authority has given its decision against that overstrained interpretation of the law by which the Board of Inland Revenue has attempted to put down cheap monthly publications. The case of The Attorney General v. Bradbury and Evans,' for the publication of the Household Narrative, in defiance of the Board, was pending at the time of Mr. Timm's examination before the committee, and various questions were put to him regarding the strange delay which had occurred in bringing it to a decision. It appears that the Board, although always exceed



ingly prompt to hang the terrors of the stamp laws over the head of any poor delinquent who is not likely to contest their usurped authority, was somewhat chary of meddling with a respectable firm. It is now nearly two years since Mr. Timm wrote his first letter to Messrs. Bradbury and Evans, warning them against the continuance of the Household Narrative without a stamp; and yet the case, which ultimately went before the Court of Exchequer, was allowed to hang over, on one excuse after another, till the beginning of last December. The important decision was given by Sir Frederick Pollock, who, in delivering judgment, admitted that the question was not free from doubt, but the benefit of the doubt was very properly given to the defendant. His opinion was summed up as follows

'Looking at the whole course of the statutes on this subject, I think it has been considered by the legislature that a certain infrequency of publication gives to a publication the character of a chronicle or history, and not that of a newspaper; and however it may afford useful information, as it is not likely to compete successfully with the daily or weekly papers, it has not been rendered liable to the stamp duty. An interval of more than twenty-six days is what I think the legislature has fixed as the criterion. If the interval be twenty-six days or less, it is a newspaper, if it is more it is a chronicle or history and the whole question turns on the distinction between news and history.'

This decision settles the question as to the legality of publishing unstamped monthly papers, containing news and interesting events, and it may also be considered as involving a condemnnation of the Board of Inland Revenue, for the arbitrary manner in which they have interpreted the law during the last two or three years. Mr. Cobden referred to several monthly papers which had been suppressed within that period by a threat of prosecution.

'I will mention the case of Mr. Bucknall, of Stroud, who published the Stroud Free Press, of which he sold 1700 copies monthly, and that paper was dropped. There was another paper, called the Norwich Reformer's Gazette, that was published monthly, under the belief that as it was at so long an interval it was not a newspaper. You threatened the publisher with a prosecution, and he being in a small way of business and in humble circumstances, discontinued the paper immediately. There were one or two papers published in Welsh which were discontinued in the same way. A mere letter from you frightened these poor people into submission, and they dropped their papers, saying that they had acted under the belief that the newspaper was not a newspaper if published monthly. They had purchased type, had made arrangements for reporting, and advertised their newspaper, and it was stopped because it was still a newspaper by your interpretation of the law, although published monthly.'

The case of these country publishers was a very hard one. And it appears even worse now in looking back to it, when we bear in mind, that the Board of Inland Revenue had not the sanction of law for the harshness of their proceedings, confident as Mr. Timm was on the subject. He was quite clear as to the liability of Mr. Dickens's Household Narrative to the stamp duty; and Mr. Keogh, the assistant secretary to the Board, was equally decided. The decision of the Court of Exchequer shows what value we must attach to the legal opinions of those two gentlemen in future. The Select Committee, after listening to all that the representatives of the Board could urge in favour of the wisdom and legality of its proceedings, points out the difficulty of carrying the law into effect with any degree o fairness, without exercising such a severity as would soon be found utterly intolerable. In their report to the House of Commons, they say

'It appears to your Committee, that, with respect to comments on news in cheap publications, the law has been allowed, to some extent, to sleep. One witness, extensively engaged in publishing periodicals of various kinds, pointed out the difficulty of keeping within the law about commenting on events; and it is notorious, that a great number of publications issued at intervals of less than twenty-six days, and at prices less than sixpence, by philanthropic, religious, political, and other societies, are published without a stamp, and contain comments and observations upon public events.

'It appears to your Committee, that if the law imposing a stamp on public intelligence and on observations thereon were carried out, nearly all periodical printed matter, and a large portion of occasional printed matter, would be subjected to the stamp duty; whilst if it be understood that the law is not to be fully observed, much unequal competition must continue to arise between different publishers; and the Board of Inland Revenue will continue to be placed in the undesirable position of having to decide upon what periodicals the law is to be enforced, and in what cases its provisions may be dispensed with.'

Were there no other evil connected with the maintenance of the newspaper stamp duty than the one here described, the House of Commons could hardly resist the demand which has lately been made for the abolition of that iniquitous tax. Mr. Rich, who took an active part in the examination of witnesses, and who is strongly opposed to any change of the law, contends that there is very little dissatisfaction with the penny stamp; in proof of which he points to the small number of petitions presented against it during last session, compared with the number against the former stamp duty in 1836. But in making this comparison, Mr. Rich ought to bear in mind that the former


movement against the stamp duty was supported by a considerable portion of the newspaper press, while the agitation for the abolition of the penny stamp is either opposed or passed over in silence by nearly all the leading journals of the present day. The warmest advocates of free trade and unrestricted competition, in every other branch of industry, shrink with unreasonable dislike from any application of those principles to that trade in which they are engaged. We are far from ascribing this reluctance of the press to agitate the question to mere selfish calculation on the part of its conductors. The slightest reflection on the subject must convince any one who knows much of the history of newspapers, that the proposed change would, in very few cases, injure the position of any well established journal, while the more successful papers would all derive more benefit from the change than any new organ of public opinion could reasonably hope to receive for many years.

One branch of the question upon which nearly all the witnesses appear to agree, is, the present anomalous state of the law relating to the transmission of newspapers, and other printed matter, by post. Not to speak of the gross injustice of making newspaper proprietors pay stamp duty on a large part of the impression of each paper, for which no postal advantages are received, it is clear that in many instances, the number of which is daily increasing, the stamp duty is not paid upon periodicals and other printed matter where postal advantages are obtained. This abuse appears to have arisen from the practice lately adopted by the Board of Inland Revenue, of allowing the publisher of any kind of printed matter, although it may not bear the slightest resemblance to a newspaper, to register it as one, and, under that guise, to send any number of tradesmen's circulars, or 'prices current,' through the Post-office at the rate of one penny, although weighing perhaps four ounces each. As the publishers of these registered circulars and prices current have, like the Legal Observer, and other favoured periodicals, the privilege of stamping a portion of their impression, and printing what number they please on unstamped paper,-the result is, that many unstamped papers are sent through the Post-office, thereby defrauding the revenue of a considerable amount annually. Nor does it appear that any means can be adopted to prevent such frauds upon the Post-office from going on and even increasing considerably. The great increase of work which the clerks are now obliged to perform, in the sorting and dispatching of so many newspapers, circulars, prices current, and other printed matter, renders them careless in examining whether the papers which pass through their hands are all stamped. Their instructions are to examine,

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