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Gibson, speaking against the amendment, showed the oppressive effects of the duty upon the cheap press, by eating up its profits; and he also referred to the influence which its impoverishment must exert upon its quality. Regarded in this light, the paper duty was really a tax upon knowledge, while it operated as an obstacle to the reward and the enterprise of authors.
Mr. Gladstone defended his proposition, pointing out that the paper duty burdened the trade in all its branches, and its effect was to create a claim of monopolies, or a system of narrow and exclusive trading, between the making of paper and the selling of books. The amendment was negatived by 245 to 192. Another debate occurred on the third reading, on a hostile motion by Sir Stafford Northcote. The bill was carried, however, but only by a small majority, 219 members voting with Government, and 210 against.
When the bill came before the House of Lords, it was rejected by 193 to 104 votes. This rejection raised the important constitutional question as to the right of the House of Lords to reject a bill involving matters of taxation that had received the sanction of the House of Commons. Lord Palmerston, who was by no means so earnest on this question as Mr. Gladstone, moved for a Committee, on the 25th of May, which should institute an inquiry into the precedents on the subject. An amendment was moved by Mr. Duncombe, to the effect that Parliament
ought not to adjourn beyond November next, so that another opportunity might be afforded to the House of Lords of accepting the bill.
In the course of the discussion, Mr. Bright said he regretted to find that some members on the opposite side of the House were disposed to treat this question with levity. If he were a member of the party opposite, he thought he should view the question as one of great gravity. He agreed with Mr. Duncombe that there was a growing feeling in the popular mind on this subject; and, from the tone of the press throughout the country, he believed that in the course of a few days there would be a wide and almost universal discontent in reference to the course which the House of Lords had taken. He had felt a great interest in the repeal of the paper duty; but that question fell into utter insignificance in comparison with the greater question which had been raised between the two Houses of Parliament. He considered that the noble lord (Palinerston) had not done himself justice, and that he had not done justice to Parliament and the country in not adopting a more decided course. The course which the noble lord had proposed was perilous to the House, and might prove fatal to the Administration of which he was the chief. He agreed with the amendment, which affirmed that time and reconsideration would probably act as mediators between the two Houses of Parliament.
The Committee-upon which Mr. Bright con
sented to serve-was ultimately nominated, but Mr. Gladstone was understood to be in favour of a bolder course than that which the Premier recommended.
The conduct of the Lords created great dissatisfaction in the country, and Mr. Bright severely commented upon it at a great meeting held at Manchester. He remarked that there was no dissolution for the House of Lords. "If a peer dies, there is no measurable instant of time between the death of him who dies to-day and him who votes to-morrow. The spirit does not pass from the body into space with greater rapidity, or with a more unseen motion, than passes the legislative power from the dead peer to the living one. The only things that do not die are the prejudices, the alarms, the self-interests, the determination to combine for the interest of their body, which necessarily, in all countries and in all ages, have acted upon irresponsible powers, like that which our House of Lords is now assuming to become. Our taxes are drawn from the capital of the country, from the skill of its population, from the toil of all those who work, as no other people in the world perhaps do work; and I say that we shall have reason for ever to be ashamed of ourselves, that our children will have to be ashamed that they come from us, if we do not now resist every attempt to take from the House of Commons that which the constitution has given to them, and which we find to be essential to our security and our freedom-namely, the absolute,
the irreversible, and uncontrolled management of the taxation and finances of this great kingdom.'
When the subject again came before the House of Commons on the 1st of June, upon a question by Lord Fermoy, Mr. Bright spoke strongly as to the attitude which the House of Commons ought to assume in resisting any infringement of its privileges and its rights. 'I do not think that we could commit a greater treason,' he said, 'to every branch of the Legislature—to the Crown, to the Coinmons, and to the House of Lords itself, than to permit a matter of this kind to be passed over as if it were of no importance, and I think the posterity of the existing generation of Englishmen would have reason to look back—with contempt I will say—upon the Parliament of 1860, if it did not thoroughly sift this question to the bottom, and act in accordance with the principles of the Constitution in the defence of those rights and liberties, if we find that they have been in any degree assailed.'
The usages of the Commons had certainly been infringed by the Upper House; and after the Committee had made their report, Lord Palmerston gave notice of three resolutions to be moved by him. On the 5th of July he brought forward the first of these resolutions as follows: "That the right of granting aids and supplies to the Crown is in the Commons alone, as an essential part of their constitution; and the limitation of all such grants, as to the matter, manner, measure, and time, is only in them. His
lordship, while observing that the constitutional question involved was a very important one, advised the House to be satisfied with a declaration of their constitutional privileges.
In the debate which followed many important speeches were made. Mr. Gladstone, who reproached the Opposition with being silent partisans of a gigantic innovation, gave his assent to the resolutions because they contained a mild and temperate but a firm declaration of the rights of the House of Commons. As Mr. Collier had shown, after an examination of the pretended precedents, there was not a rag or shred of authority for the claim put forth by the House of Lords. Mr. Disraeli gave his cordial assent to the resolution, which, in his opinion expressed a temperate and wise course on the part of the House. Lord John Russell condemned the act of the House of Lords as rash and unjustifiable, while Mr. Horsman claimed that they had checked the House of Commons in a headlong, precipitate, and mad career.
Mr. Bright followed Mr. Horsman with a very animated and effective speech. He began by expressing his surprise that Mr. Horsman had not concluded his speech by an amendment that would reverse the resolution. He (Mr. Bright) was not satisfied with the course which the House was invited to take. He would not attack the resolutions, nor would he defend them. They were not worthy of the occasion, and bore marks of having been written by more than one hand. It could not be denied that the Lords, if they