§ MR. DISRAELI
said, he should take that occasion to put the questions to the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade, of which he had given notice on the preceding day, with regard to the returns given to the House by the department over which the right hon. Gentleman presided. He wished to receive some information from the right hon. Gentleman as to the cause of the delay that had taken place in furnishing these returns. They were now in the middle of the month of February, and yet the monthly return for December had not yet been circulated, while the general summary for the year had only been printed that morning. There was also another publication of the Board 820 of Trade to which he begged to call the right hon. Gentleman's attention. He alluded to the digested returns, called tables, relating to the revenue, trade, and commerce of the country. They had recently had an additional volume delivered to them, but still the House was only in possession of the returns relating to the trade and commerce of the country up to the year 1847, the present being the year of our Lord 1850. He wanted to know from the right hon. Gentleman what use Her Majesty's Ministers supposed that returns of so distant a date could be to the House, and whether no means could be devised by which returns of so much importance might be carried down to a more recent period? He should also like to know the cause of the delay that had thus taken place, and whether it proceeded from a want of sufficient hands to prepare the information that was in their possession; and if so, why they had been favoured in preference with a volume a few days ago, abounding in information of a peculiar nature, but not possessing the importance of the matter to which he had alluded; as, for instance, the number of summonses issued against spirit shops in the city of Dublin, or the number and conduct of the temperance coffee shops of Dublin.
§ MR. DISRAELI
said that he was, and he was glad to have called the right hon. Gentleman's attention to a matter connected with his own department, of which he had been ignorant. The volume also contained a list of the brothels in Manchester, while returns of the utmost importance connected with the trade and commerce of the country were withheld—the most recently furnished being, as he had already observed, only down to the year 1847.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, that with the exception of the last question, the hon. Member had been good enough to give him notice of the nature of the information which he required. The first two questions related to the delay which the hon. Gentleman alleged had taken place in the returns furnished by the Board of Trade. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that he was under a misapprehension if he supposed that any delay had taken place this year as compared with preceding years. On the contrary, he had had the curiosity to ask for an account of the date of presenting these returns in past years, and he 821 found that ever since 1835 there was but one year in which the returns had not been presented later than in the present year. This year the annual summary had been laid on the table on the 11th of February, which was earlier than the date in every other year, with the exception of 1842, when the returns were made on the 11th of February also, but they were then found to be so inaccurate that they had to be withdrawn, and a more correct return made out. He could assure the hon. Gentleman that this delay did not rest with the Board of Trade alone. They had to wait until they received the returns from the different departments, and their duty was to prepare them afterwards for the House. Both his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and himself were most anxious that as little delay as possible should take place, and they had both written to the Board of Customs to stimulate them to increased haste; and as an additional proof that the delay had not taken place in the Board of Trade, he might add that it was only on yesterday that the Excise accounts had been forwarded to them. The hon. Gentleman had also asked why the digested accounts, which generally went by the name of Mr. Porter's Tables, had only reached down to 1847. But before the statistical department of the Board of Trade was in existence, these accounts were always an additional year in arrear. The statistical department of the Board of Trade had succeeded in lessoning the period necessary for collecting these returns, which came from all parts of the world, by one year. There was one department in the returns which was called "Section A," and related to finances and trade; and this, which was prepared distinct from the remainder, would be laid on the table, he hoped, within a fortnight, bringing down the return to the end of 1848. There was, he could assure the hon. Gentleman, both on the part of the Customs Board, and in every department of the State, every desire to furnish these accounts as early as possible; but when the information to he collected was scattered over the world, it was impossible that greater despatch could be used. Besides, if the returns were to he of any value, it was necessary that strict accuracy should be attended to. Even with all the delay that took place, the Board of Trade still found it very difficult to make the returns perfect. With regard to the miscellaneous returns to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, though they 822 were comprised by the Board of Trade in the general returns, still it was clear that they were returns with the compilation of which the Board of Trade had nothing whatever to do. They referred to the statistics of crime and police, which it would, however, be admitted it was very desirable should be laid before the House. If the hon. Gentleman, or any other hon. Member, had any suggestion to offer tending to lessen the delay that took place, the Board of Trade would be most happy to give it the fullest consideration.